Public hospital emergency presentations rebound in 2020-21

The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Emergency Department Care Report shows that the worrying trends in ED waiting times continue in Australia’s public hospitals.

Presentations to public hospital emergency departments rebounded in 2020-21 following a decline in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report.

In 2020-21, 71 per cent of patients were seen on time for their urgency category, down from 74 per cent in 2019-20, but consistent with 2018-19 (71 per cent). 

Of patients in the second-most urgent category, “Emergency”, seven in ten (71 per cent) were seen within the required ten minutes, down from 75 per cent in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The AIHW data shows big differences between States and Territories on ED performance. In New South Wales 79 per cent presenting at an ED were seen on time compared to only 48 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory.

The AIHW report provides updated data following the AMA’s recent release of Public Hospital Report Card 2021, which showed that even during the 2020 lockdowns hospitals were still overwhelmed.

The AIHW report says: “Following steady annual average growth of 3.2 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19, and a dip of 1.4 per cent in 2019, presentations to public hospital emergency departments increased by 6.9 per cent in 2020-21. This brings the growth back on trend with the pre-pandemic years.

“There were 8.8 million presentations to Australian public hospital emergency departments in 2020-21, compared to 8.2 million presentations in 2019-20.”

The AMA’s key findings from its Public Hospital Report Card 2021 released in November highlighted that Australians seeking emergency treatment classed as Urgent – that is needing treatment within 30 minutes or less – only had a one in three chance of being seen on time in the worst-performing jurisdiction.

It found that even during lockdown in 2020, hospitals were still overwhelmed with backsliding or barely improved performance, even with dramatically reduced patient volumes.

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