ACT News

Emergency department demand increasing at double the population growth

Emergency department presentations are increasing by at least twice the rate of population growth, according to Australian National University research.

Associate Professor Drew Richardson, aid the growing demand was well recognised across the country although figures used by hospitals and academics were often outdated and up to two years old. 

The professor, who is based at the Canberra Hospital, said a study of 64 Australian hospitals found daily presentations had increased from 141.5 in June 2012 to 160.3 in June 2015.

The findings, presented at the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine College on Monday, come after Canberra hospitals recorded their busiest year on record with nearly 130,000 presentations.

The number of people visiting the departments has increased by 22 per cent since 2009-10, despite the territory's population growing by 9 per cent.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare published last week also found waiting times at Canberra emergency departments were sliding further behind the rest of Australia.

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But increasing demand is not the only challenge facing Canberra doctors and nurses. Research by the college has found more than half a million patients are presenting with alcohol related injuries each year.

One in eight presentations during peak hours are associated with alcohol consumption leading specialists to label alcohol more disrupting to emergency departments than the drug ice.

Associate Professor Egerton-Warburton, chair of the college's public health committee, said alcohol-affected patients were more likely to require urgent resuscitation and arrive by ambulance and with police.

"One drunk person can disrupt an entire emergency department," she said. "They are often violent and aggressive, make staff feel unsafe and impact negatively on the care of other patients."

"The sheer volume of alcohol-affected patients means they disrupt emergency department's more than patients affected by ice."

According to the ACT Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association, visits to Canberra's emergency departments for injuries attributable to alcohol increased by 23.7 per cent during 2009-13.

Professor Egerton-Warburton said the study, which screened 9600 patients, found-affected patients were more likely to require urgent resuscitation and arrive by ambulance and with police.

The college has used the research to call on state and territory governments to introduce strict measures to limit the availability of alcohol.  

"The measures included in the NSW 'lockout' laws – particularly early closure – have demonstrated beyond doubt that when you reduce availability, you reduce harm," Professor Egerton-Warburton said.

"Other jurisdictions should follow NSW and now Queensland in introducing early closing times and reducing the availability of alcohol.

Earlier this year, the ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance called for the territory government to introduce 1am lockouts at nightclubs and bars after a spate of alcohol induced assaults.

The alliance, which represents 47 organisations including the ACT Australian Medical Association, said the restrictions would not have a significant impact on the economy and would improve safety.

Both Canberra and Calvary hospitals have reported serious injuries including skull fractures, bleeding to the brain and permanent brain injury.

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