Hospital safety and quality

A high-quality and safe health system increases the likelihood of desired health outcomes, reduces costs to patients and the health system, and keeps patients protected from preventable harm.

These pages present the latest available performance information on safety and quality in Australian hospitals, based on the measures that can be derived from the national hospitals data collections.

Safety and quality bookmark 1

Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections in public hospitals have remained less than 0.8 cases per 10,000 patient days between 2016–17 and 2021–22.

Safety and quality bookmark 2

146,278 hospitalisations involved at least one hospital acquired complication in 2021–22. Patients with a hospital acquired complication stayed longer in hospital.

Safety and quality bookmark 3 

In Audit 2 2020, national compliance was 88.2% (national benchmark 80%).

How is safety and quality of care in hospitals measured?

The safety and quality of care provided to patients in hospitals can be measured in several ways. Measures reported on these pages are:

  • healthcare-associated infections (Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections)
  • hand hygiene compliance
  • hospital-acquired complications
  • conditions that arose during a hospital stay
  • potentially preventable hospitalisations
  • patients’ experiences of hospital care.

Below is a summary of the latest results for each of these safety and quality measures. Detailed information and further results, including trends over time, are presented at Admitted patient safety and quality.

Healthcare-associated infections: Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections (SABSI)

Healthcare-associated infections are one of the most common complications affecting patients in hospital and can prolong a patient’s hospital stay or result in death. Infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus (also known as ‘golden staph’), can be acquired as a direct or indirect result of care received in hospital. The current agreed benchmark for SABSI is no more than 1 case per 10,000 days of patient care.

In 2021–22:

  • there were 1,546 cases of SABSI occurring during 21.1 million days of patient care in public hospitals – this was a rate of 0.73 SABSI cases per 10,000 patient days
  • all public hospitals in each state and territory had rates below the national benchmark of 1 case per 10,000 patient days, except for the Australian Capital Territory
  • for private hospitals that volunteered to report SABSI surveillance data to the national collection (23% of hospitals), there were 189 SABSI cases occurring during 5.6 million days of patient care – a rate of 0.34 cases per 10,000 patient days.

Hand hygiene compliance

Good hand hygiene is a key first-line defence to prevent or reduce the transmission of microorganisms, including healthcare-associated infections.

Hand hygiene in hospitals refers to the washing of hands or use of alcohol-based rubs by healthcare workers at specific times (or ’moments’), before and after patient interactions and procedures. The current national benchmark requires that hand hygiene compliance occurs in at least 80% of hand hygiene moments. Compliance is assessed via national hand hygiene audits.

In audit period 1, 2023 (1st November 2022 to 31 March 2023):

  • the national hand hygiene compliance rate was 86%
  • compliance rates for each of the 5 moments varied between 81% (moment 5 – after touching a patient's surroundings) and 93% (moment 3 – after a procedure or body fluid exposure risk)
  • the highest compliance rates were among dental professionals and nurses and midwives.

Hospital-acquired complications

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) lists 16 hospital-acquired complications (HACs) for which clinical risk mitigation strategies may reduce the risk of occurrence.

In 2021–22:

  • one or more HACs were recorded in 112,000 hospitalisations in public hospitals (2.1 in every 100 hospitalisations), and 34,700 hospitalisations in private hospitals (0.9 in every 100 hospitalisations)
  • the most recorded type of complication was Healthcare associated infection, which was recorded in 55% of hospitalisations.

Conditions that arose during a hospital stay

Conditions that arise during a hospital stay include conditions which may or may not have been preventable.

In 2021–22, 938,400 hospitalisations (8.3% of hospitalisations) recorded a condition noted as arising during the episode of hospital care. Hospitalisations involving Childbirth were most likely to record a condition that arose during the hospital stay (48% for same-day hospitalisations and 67% of overnight hospitalisations).

Patients’ experience of hospital care

Patient experience captures information on patients’ views of their interactions with the healthcare system and communication with staff delivering healthcare services.

In 2022–23, among people aged 15 and over who used hospital services as an admitted patient, most reported that:

  • hospital doctors and specialists spent enough time with them (71%), listened carefully (74%) and always showed respect (78%)
  • hospital nurses spent enough time with them (74%), listened carefully (78%) and always showed respect (80%).

Potentially preventable hospitalisations

Potentially preventable hospitalisations are an indicator of the effectiveness of non-hospital care. These hospitalisations could have potentially been prevented through the provision of appropriate health interventions and early disease management in primary care and community-based care settings (including by general practitioners, medical specialists, dentists, nurses, and allied health professionals).

In 2021–22, there were 494,000 potentially preventable hospitalisations in public hospitals and 167,000 in private hospitals. These included:

  • 251,000 hospitalisations for chronic conditions (excluding diabetes)
  • 54,400 hospitalisations for diabetes complications
  • 43,300 hospitalisations for vaccine-preventable conditions.

More data on Hospital safety and quality: