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Pressure mounts on nation’s hospitals

New report provides timely information on emergency department care and elective surgery waiting times.

The number of people seeking either emergency treatment, or elective surgery, in Australia's public hospitals continues to rise but it is not all bad news on waiting lists.

Emergency Departments (EDs) across the nation responded to just short of six million (5,957,960) patient presentations during the 12 months to July this year, latest figures show.

This number, which includes those critically injured who arrive in an ambulance, through to people who could have otherwise visited their GP, has risen almost five per cent every year since 2005-06.

Despite this increasing year-on-year demand on ED resources, the percentage of patients treated on time depending on their triage rating remained at 70 per cent, the same as in 2008-09.

"Treatment by a medical officer or nurse began within 23 minutes of presenting to the emergency department for 50 per cent of people and within 115 minutes of presentation for 90 per cent of people," said Jenny Hargreaves, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

All patients who arrived requiring resuscitation - the top urgency category - were treated immediately.

Patients assessed as semi or non-urgent should be treated within one to two hours respectively of their arrival at an ED, according to triage guidelines.

These people, otherwise considered to be well enough to have waited to see their GP, accounted for 41 per cent of all ED cases treated over the year.

At the same time as pressure on EDs continued to rise, the number of Australians having their elective surgery performed in a public hospital also increased.

Almost 610,000 people had their elective surgery performed during the 12 months to July, a figure which increased by around 2.4 per cent every year since 2005-06.

Ms Hargreaves said there was also an increase in the short-term delay faced by many on elective surgery waiting lists but, in a positive sign, fewer people were forced to wait more than a year.

The median waiting time for an elective surgery in 2009-10 was just over a month at 36 days, up slightly on the figure in 2005-06.

"The increase in volume of elective surgery ... has been accompanied by an increase in waiting times, with the median waiting time increasing from 32 days in 2005-06," Ms Hargreaves said.

"Over the same period, there has been a downward trend in the proportion of people who wait more than a year to be admitted for their surgery, dropping from 4.6 per cent in 2005-06 to 3.5 per cent in 2009-10.”


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