ACT News

Canberrans rack up highest number of visits to hospital emergency departments for non-urgent care

Canberrans are  the Australians most likely to visit a hospital emergency department with a non-urgent condition, in a year when the territory had the largest percentage spike of emergency presentations throughout the country.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest report shows patients requiring care within two hours for non-urgent conditions, accounted for 13.1 per cent of the ACT's total emergency presentations in 2013-14.

High demand: Canberra's two emergency departments had the country's highest percentage increase in visits at 5.8 per ...
High demand: Canberra's two emergency departments had the country's highest percentage increase in visits at 5.8 per cent in 2013-14.  

In the same year, Canberra's two emergency departments had the country's highest percentage increase in visits at 5.8 per cent, while Western Australia had a 1.5 per cent decline.

Chief minister and Minister for Health Katy Gallagher said Canberra's continued increases were  not a trend seen across the country, despite Queensland reporting a similar spike in emergency department visits of 5.2 per cent.

Ms Gallagher said Canberra's hospitals were improving in overall timeliness for emergency care despite the unprecedented demand.

But the data, released on Wednesday, showed only half the patients requiring urgent care within 30 minutes were seen on time – the worst of all states and territories.

Overall only 61 per cent of emergency presentations were seen on time in the ACT, with only the Northern Territory recording a worse result where only half of patients were seen on time.

But the ACT's waiting times improved from 2012-13 when just 51 per cent of patients were seen on time.

Ms Gallagher said recent figures showed the ACT's trend towards increasing hospital presentations was continuing with 22,195 patients attending in the first two months of 2014-15 - an 8 per cent increase on the same period last year.

"With 14 months of substantial increases in presentations, which is not showing any sign of decline, it is important that we seek to understand more thoroughly the reasons why ACT hospitals are seeing such big increases despite improved GP access, new models like the nurse-led walk in centres and new services like the National Home Doctor Service," she said.

"I have asked ACT Health to provide me with a report on what factors are leading to these substantial year-on-year increases."

Semi-urgent conditions, requiring care within 60 minutes, accounted for most emergency presentations in the ACT at 42.5 per cent of all visits, followed by urgent cases making up 34.3 per cent of the total 125,641.

Overall the ACT had the lowest proportion of presentations completed in four hours or less at 62 per cent – equal to the Northern Territory.

Ms Gallagher urged Canberrans to consider other primary care health services before presenting to emergency to help prioritise the work of doctors and nurses towards the most urgent cases.