The ACT's health system will test a new set of national targets for emergency departments, as it continues to fall short of existing ones.
The move comes after the territory returned another disappointing report card on emergency department wait times on Wednesday, and ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith warned the next one would only be worse.
She later met with the Australian College for Emergency Medicine, which proposes benchmarks for the country's emergency departments.
The parties agreed the ACT would test new national time-based targets, a government spokeswoman confirmed. The spokeswoman could not confirm if the new targets would be more lenient than existing ones.
Canberra's emergency department wait times remained the worst in the country as at December last year.
An ACT Health report, published on Wednesday, showed how the health system had performed in the quarter from October to December 2020.
In the quarter, the ACT again fell short of existing national benchmarks for emergency department wait times in two of five patient categories.
Wait times increased on the previous quarter in three of the patient categories.
Most striking was that the median wait time for "urgent", or category three, patients blew out to 75 minutes at Canberra Hospital in the October to December 2020 quarter.
That was up from 44 minutes in the previous quarter, and 28 minutes in the quarter before that.
The existing national benchmarks put the wait time for those urgent patients at within 30 minutes of them presenting to emergency departments.
Median wait times for urgent patients at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce were 42 minutes, up from 31 in the previous quarter.
The health minister put the problem with urgent patients partly down to how emergency departments were managed.
"Category one is absolutely seen immediately upon arrival - that's a resuscitation category - [while] category two is very urgent and is seen very quickly within that 10 minutes, and we meet the benchmark in relation to category two on a regular basis," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"Category three, four and five patients are largely seen in order of arrival.
"So, because category three is that 30-minute wait benchmark, that tends to get pushed out."
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She said the college for emergency medicine was reviewing the appropriateness of some of the targets for emergency departments.
"They themselves have recognised that we're seeing, across emergency departments right across Australia, an increase in presentations and increasing complexity," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"We can do side by side comparisons using our existing measures, but also using some new measures and having a look at what that means for the emergency department."
She said there was lots of work going on at both Canberra Hospital and Calvary Hospital to improve flows from their emergency departments into the rest of their hospitals.
She hoped that work would be reflected positively in data collected during this year's April to June quarter, but she warned this year's January to March quarter would be a bad one for ACT Health.
"I do have to say, the quarter that we've just completed, I don't expect to see an improvement. In fact, I expect that these numbers will get worse from the previous quarter," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"It has been extremely busy in our emergency departments and we've seen a lot of mental health presentations as well, which often take a lot of time to support people.
"We know that there has been bed lock in mental health as well, which is why we've invested in an entire new mental health ward in Canberra Hospital ... which will be coming online in the next few months."
The minister said her team was really focused on improving the number of people who were in and out of emergency departments within four hours.
In the October to December 2020 quarter, less than 57 per cent of people who presented to emergency departments in the ACT were out within four hours.
The minister said she was still set on increasing that number to 70 per cent.
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