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.

Over time, ED activity has grown faster than population growth both in terms of the number of presentations to EDs and the amount of hours each person spends in ED. This growth has been concentrated within the working age populations, which suggests a growing demand for ED services that does not appear to be driven by factors such as population ageing.

Over the last five years, the performance of EDs in terms of measures of waiting times has declined.

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 2021–22. Young children aged 0–4 years and people aged over 65 had the highest rates of presentations to emergency departments.

Emergency department care bookmark 2

67% of patients were seen on time overall in 2021–22.

Emergency department care bookmark 3

61% of presentations were completed within 4 hours in 2021–22.

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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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Emergency department activity stabilising

In 2021–22, there were 8.79 million presentations to EDs in public hospitals – a rate of 339 presentations per 1,000 population. This was a very similar level of ED activity to that seen in 2020–21 (8.81 million ED presentations – 339 presentations per 1,000 population).

In prior years:

  • between 2019–20 and 2020–21, despite some ongoing restrictions to health care and other activities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there was a 6.9% increase in the number of presentations, bringing the number more in line with the trend prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • in the 5 years prior to the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019–20, the rate of presentations to ED per 1,000 population steadily increased from 310 in 2014–15 to 329 in 2018–19, an increase of 3.2% per year on average.

Age and sex

In 2021–22:

Patients waiting longer in EDs before being seen

Over time, the national trends has been for people to wait longer in the ED before being seen by a health professional. In 2021–22:

  • 50% of patients were seen within 20 minutes, which was 2 minutes longer than the median waiting time for 2020–21 (18 minutes) and also longer than in the 3 years prior to that.
  • 90% of patients were seen within 1 hour and 57 minutes. This was markedly higher than the previous 4 years which varied from 1 hour, 32 minutes in 2019–20 to 1 hour, 42 minutes in 2020–21.

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

There has been an increase in the overall amount of time that patients tend to spend in EDs. In 2021–22:

  • 61% of ED visits were completed within 4 hours, down from 67% in 2020–21 and 71% in 2017–18.
  • 90% of ED visits were completed within 9 hours and 10 minutes in 2020–21 which is an increase of almost 2 hours since 2017–18 when 90% of visits were completed within 7 hours and 14 minutes.
  • The time in which 90% of ED visits for patients subsequently admitted to the hospital, has increased by almost 4.5 hours in recent years (from 11 hours, 8 minutes in 2017–18 to 15 hours, 37 minutes in 2021–22).

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.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2022) National, state and territory population, ABS website, accessed 13 October 2022.