Emergency departments are a critical component of Australia's health-care system, providing care for patients who require urgent attention. This report presents information on the Australian public hospitals that have purpose-built emergency departments staffed 24 hours a day, which reported to the National Non-Admitted Patient Emergency Department Care Database. Data for 2015–16 for the Australian Capital Territory were not available at the time of publication.

How much emergency department activity was there?

In 2015–16, there were 7.5 million presentations to emergency departments across Australia (excluding the Australian Capital Territory), or more than 20,000 presentations each day.

Between 2011–12 and 2015–16, presentations to emergency departments increased by 3.8% on average each year. After adjusting for coverage changes (including the absence of data for the Australian Capital Territory for 2015–16), it is estimated that presentations increased by about 2.7% on average each year.

Who used emergency department services?

In 2015–16, people who used emergency department services most commonly were aged 15–24 years and 25–34 years (13.7% and 13.8% respectively). Patients aged 65 years and over (who make up about 15% of the population) accounted for about 20% of emergency department presentations in 2015–16.

Why were emergency department services used?

About 27% (almost 1.9 million) of emergency department presentations in 2015–16 had a principal diagnosis in the ICD-10-AM chapter Injury, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes. The two most common diagnoses reported in 2015–16 were Abdominal and pelvic pain and Pain in the throat and chest (4.2% and 3.4% respectively).

How long did people wait?

In 2015–16, about 74% of Emergency presentations were 'seen on time' (within the clinically recommended time). This was the same proportion as in 2014–15. It had increased between 2011–12 and 2013–14 from 72% to 75%.

In 2015–16, the proportion of patients seen on time ranged from 61% in the Northern Territory to 81% in New South Wales. Almost 100% of Resuscitation patients, 77% of Emergency patients and 93% of Non-urgent patients were seen on time.

How long did people stay?

In 2015–16, the proportion of emergency department visits completed in 4 hours or less was 73%-compared with 64% in 2011–12. In 2015–16, Western Australia had the highest proportion completed in 4 hours or less (76%) and the Northern Territory had the lowest (64%).

About 29% of patients were admitted to hospital after their emergency department care. For these patients, 49% were admitted in 4 hours or less and 90% were admitted within 10 hours and 43 minutes.