ACT News

Emergency department visits still high despite health advice

Visits to Canberra Hospital's emergency department remain high despite repeated advice from authorities for people to make use of alternative medical services unless there is a genuine emergency. 

The most recent data from ACT Health shows there were more than 1400 ED presentations the week ending September 28.

The entrance to Canberra Hospital's emergency department.
The entrance to Canberra Hospital's emergency department. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Despite the very high numbers, occupancy levels dropped to 90 per cent, largely due to the recent opening of a number of new beds to help manage high demand throughout the hospital, an ACT Health spokeswoman said. 

She said occupancy levels regularly fluctuated, but the hospital aimed to run at about 90 per cent.

ACT Health has again reminded Canberrans of alternative options for treatment such as walk-in centres in Belconnen and Tuggeranong, the Canberra After Hours Locum Medical Service and healthdirect.

Recent figures reveal hospital emergency departments in the territory have been dealing with unprecedented patient numbers, as emergency department visits hit a record high in 2013-14. 

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Presentations surged by nearly 23,000 patients in a decade and increased 24 per cent between 2002-02 and 2012-13. 

ED visits increased from 106,820 in 2009-10 to 125,890 last financial year, a 6 per cent rise on the previous year's figures. 

Australian Medical Association ACT president Dr Elizabeth Gallagher believes there needs to be a deeper look at what is driving the high demand. 

"I think that's really important that they do because there are general practice type alternatives now, with CALMS, the walk-in centres and the after-hours doctor service," she said. 

"Is it actually patients that can be dealt there or is it people cutting their fingers that are category four or category five that need stitches but can't necessarily get that sort of service outside of the hospital system? 

"Really what we need to look at is what's coming through the door and are there alternatives to that or are they truly emergency department type presentations.

"Until we know that, I think it's very difficult to say to people 'don't go to the emergency department unless it's a real emergency' because some people don't know whether it's a real emergency or not until they actually get assessed and find out that it wasn't a real emergency."

A new bulk billing after-hours doctor service has also been hit with overwhelming demand and has visited more than 1200 patients since its launch just over a month ago. 

The ACT Health spokeswoman said other options available for treatment in the ACT include community pharmacists, the 24-hour healthdirect service on 1800 022 222, walk-in centres, CALMS on 1300 422 567, the National Home Service on 137 425 or GP surgeries.