Emergency department care

Emergency departments (EDs) are an essential component of Australia’s health care system. Many of Australia’s public hospitals have purpose-built EDs, staffed 24 hours a day, providing care for patients who require urgent medical, surgical or other attention.

Impact of COVID-19 Emergency department activity

Between February 2020 and June 2021, a range of restrictions on travel, business, social interaction and border control have been in place to prevent and reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID‑19). In this period there have also been a number of other changes that may have impacted on the provision of healthcare services.

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Explore more details on ED care via the links at the bottom of the page.

Emergency department care

All data in these visualisations are available for download in the Data & downloads section of the MyHospitals website.

Emergency department care bookmark 1

There were 8.8 million emergency department presentations in 2020–21. Young children aged 0-4 years and people aged over 65 had the highest rates of presentations to emergency departments.

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Emergency department care bookmark 2

71% of patients were seen on time overall in 2020–21.

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Emergency department care bookmark 3

67% of presentations were completed within 4 hours in 2020–21.

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Changes in emergency department activity

In 2020–21, there were 8.8 million presentations to EDs in public hospitals—a rate of 342.5 presentations per 1,000 population for this period.

In the five years prior to 2019–20, presentations per 1,000 population increased from 310 to 329, an increase of 3.2% per year on average. In 2019–20 the rate dropped to 319 per 1,000 population.

In 2019–20, with the outbreak of COVID-19 in February 2020, the number of ED presentations decreased by 1.4% compared to 2018–19, likely influenced by COVID-19 restrictions and the changes made to health care provision.

In 2020–21, the number of presentations to EDs increased 6.9% compared to 2019–20, despite ongoing restrictions to health care due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Children and older adults are more likely to receive ED care

In 2020–21:

  • patients aged 4 years and under (who make up 7% of the population) accounted for 10% of presentations
  • patients aged 65 and over (who make up 16% of the population) accounted for 21% of presentations
  • overall, males accounted for 49% of presentations and females 51%.

Patients waiting longer to be seen

In 2020–21:

  • 50% of patients were seen within 18 minutes, slower than waiting times for 2019–20 (17 minutes), but faster than the three years prior (19 minutes) 
  • 90% of patients were seen within 1 hour and 42 minutes. This measure was higher than the previous four years—which varied from 1 hour and 32 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Overall, 71% of patients were ‘seen on time’, including almost all of those requiring immediate care and 71% of those requiring care within 10 minutes . The proportion of patients seen on time has decreased since 2019–20 (74%)

Patients staying longer in ED and fewer ED visits are completed in 4 hours

  • Overall, 67% of ED visits were completed within 4 hours in 2020–21, down from 72% in 2016–17.
  • 90% of ED visits were completed within 8 hours in 2020–21—an increase of 1 hour since 2016–17 when90% of visits were completed within 7 hours.
  • For patients subsequently admitted to the hospital, the time in which 90% of ED visits were completed increased from 10 hours 44 minutes in 2016–17 to 12 hours 57 minutes in 2020–21.

Where do I find more information?

The latest data on ED care is available for download below.

More information about the impact of COVID-19 on emergency department activity are available in the Emergency department care activity area of the MyHospitals site.