Hospital activity

Public and private hospitals provide a range of services, including emergency department care, admitted patient care (including for elective surgery) and outpatient care. This section provides an overview of activity in public and private hospitals in the most recent year of data available, and trends in the number of services they provided in the preceding 5 years.

Explore more information about hospital activity via the links at the bottom of the page.

Impact of COVID-19 on hospital activity in 2019–20 and 2020–21

Australia’s hospital system has played a significant role in managing and treating people with the coronavirus virus (COVID-19). Between January 2020 and June in 2021, there were over 7,300 hospitalisations involving a COVID-19 diagnosis (2,600 in 2019–20 and 4,700 in 2020–21).

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a profound impact on hospital activity generally. The range of social, economic, business and travel restrictions, including restrictions on some hospital services, and associated measures in other healthcare services to support social distancing in Australia resulted in an overall decrease in hospital activity in 2019–20. Many of these restrictions were eased in 2020, leading to an increase in hospitalisations in 2020–21, despite continuing restrictions in some local areas.

In 2019–20, the number of hospitalisations in Australia decreased by 2.8% compared to 2018–19, whereas previous year-to-year changes indicated a consistent upward trend. In the following year, hospitalisations increased 6.3% in 2020–21 to 11.8 million, an increase of 3.6% in public hospitals and 10.5% in private hospitals.

More information about the impact of COVID-19 on hospital activity can be found on these pages. Data on:

Hospital activity

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

Admitted patient care

There were 11.8 million hospitalisations in 2020–21. This was a 6.3% increase since 2019–20.

Emergency department care

There were 8.8 million emergency department presentations in 2020–21.

Non-admitted patient care

There were 47 million non-admitted patient service events provided by public hospitals in various settings in 2020–21.

Visualisation not available for printing

Emergency department care

There were 8.2 million emergency department presentations in 2019–20.  Young children aged 0-4 years and people over 65 had the highest rates of presentations to emergency departments.

Visualisation not available for printing

Non-admitted patient care

There were 38.2 million non-admitted patient service events provided by public hospitals in 2019–20. Allied health and/or clinical nurse specialist interventions were the most common clinc type that provided services.

Visualisation not available for printing

How is hospital activity measured?

Hospital activity is measured by the number of services provided by hospitals, including:

  • hospitalisations in public and private hospitals for admitted patient care
  • presentations to public hospital emergency departments
  • service events for non-admitted patients in public hospitals
  • admissions from elective surgery waiting lists in public hospitals.

In recent years, activity in all sectors of the Australian hospital system has increased each year, reflecting an increased demand for services. However, between 2018–19 and 2019–20, hospital activity decreased due to the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system. But with the lifting of restrictions in 2020, hospital activity increased between 2019-20 to 2020-21, despite continuing restrictions in some local areas.

Overall, activity in all sectors of the Australian hospital system is increasing, reflecting an increasing demand for services.

Hospitalisations

Nationally, between 2014–15 and 2018–19, hospitalisations increased by an average of 3.3% per year—which was greater than the year-on-year increase in average growth in Australia’s population over the same period (1.1%). Same-day hospitalisations increased by 3.4%, on average, per year and overnight hospitalisations increased by 1.2%, on average, per year.

In 2019-20

  • there were 11.1 million hospitalisations in Australia, including 6.9 million same-day hospitalisations and 4.3 million overnight hospitalisations.
  • due to the impacts of COVID-19 on Australia's health care system, the number of hospitalisations decreased by 2.8% (compared to 2018–19) 
  • the number of same-day hospitalisations decreased by 2.1% and overnight hospitalisations decreased by 4.0%
  • hospitalisations in private hospitals decreased more than public hospitals for both same-day and overnight hospitalisations.

The larger decrease in overnight hospitalisations, particularly for private hospitals, was likely attributable to the restrictions placed on selected Category 2 and Category 3 elective surgeries due to COVID-19.

In 2020–21:

  • hospitalisations increased by 6.3% to 11.8 million, same-day hospitalisations increased by 8.1% and overnight hospitalisations increased by 3.3%
  • hospitalisations in private hospitals increased more than public hospitals for both same-day and overnight hospitalisations.

Emergency department presentations

In 2019–20 and 2020–21, emergency department activity was impacted by COVID-19. Further information about the impact of COVID-19 on emergency department activity is available in the Emergency department activity section of the MyHospitals site.

Just over 24,000 people on average sought treatment in public hospital emergency departments each day in 2020–21. This figure increased 6.9% between 2019–20 and 2020–21 after a decrease of 1.4% between 2018–19 and 2019–20. This equates to an increase in presentations from 319 to 342 per 1,000 population between 2019–20 and 2020–21.

Just over 80% of emergency department presentations occur between 8am and 10pm.

Non-admitted patient services

Non-admitted patient services are provided by outpatient clinics in Australia’s public hospitals. These services include patients seeing specialist medical practitioners or allied health practitioners or having diagnostic or other procedures.

In 2020–21, 46.8 million service events were provided in outpatient clinics. Of these:

  • Allied health and/or clinical nurse specialist intervention clinics provided nearly half (44%, 20.4 million)
  • 1 in 4 (26%, 12.2 million) were provided in Medical consultation clinics
  • 1 in 5 (19%, 9.0 million) were Diagnostic services clinics
  • 1 in 10 (11%, 15.3 million) were provided in Procedural clinics

Where do I find more information?

The latest data on admitted patient care is available for download below.

More information about the impact of COVID-19 on hospital activity are available in the Admitted patient care activity area of the MyHospitals site.