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 on 2019–20 Emergency department activity

Between February and the end of June, a range of restrictions on travel, business, social interaction and border control were introduced 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, including emergency department care.

These restrictions led to an overall decrease in emergency department presentations by 1.4% compared to 2018–19.

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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 8.2 million emergency department presentations in 2019–20. 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

74% of patients were seen on time overall in 2019–20.

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Emergency department care bookmark 3

69% of presentations were completed within 4 hours in 2019–20.

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Emergency department activity in 2019–20

Nationally, between 2014–15 and 2018–19 the number of presentations to public hospital EDs increased by 3.2% on average each year.

In 2019–20, the number of ED presentations decreased by 1.4% compared to 2018–19 which was likely influenced by COVID-19 restrictions and the changes affecting health care provision since February 2020.

In 2019–20:

  • Principal diagnoses of Injury, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes accounted for 23% of presentations (1.9 million). These include fractures, burns, toxic effects of medicinal and non-medicinal substances, and other complications.
  • 53% of patients were assigned to the three most urgent triage categories (Resuscitation, Emergency and Urgent), ranging from 38% for patients aged 5 to 14 to 71% for patients aged 95 and over.
  • Most ED patients left the ED after being treated (61%) and almost one-third of patients (31%) were admitted to hospital for further care.

Children and older adults are more likely to receive ED care

  • Patients aged 4 years and under (who make up less than 7% of the population) accounted for 10% of presentations.
  • Patients aged 65 and over (who make up about 16% of the population) accounted for 22% of presentations.

Around three-quarters of patients receive care on time

In 2019–20, 74% of patients were ‘seen on time’, including almost all of those requiring immediate care and 75% of those requiring care within 10 minutes. The overall proportion seen on time has increased since 2015–16 (73%).

Of all ED presentations in 2019–20:

  • 50% of patients were seen within 17 minutes, faster than waiting times for the previous four years (19 minutes)
  • 90% of patients were seen within 1 hour and 32 minutes. This measure was fairly consistent over the previous four years, varying from 1 hour and 34 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Fewer ED visits are completed in 4 hours

  • Overall, 69% of ED visits were completed within 4 hours in 2019–20, down from 73% in 2015–16.
  • 90% of ED visits were completed within 7 hours and 30 minutes in 2019–20, consistent with the 7 hours and 29 minutes in 2018–19.

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.