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Long waits in emergency still a big problem

In Australia, 70 per cent of patients in emergency departments are waiting more than eight hours to be moved to a hospital bed after receiving emergency care, a recent survey has found. And that’s nothing new.

The research, from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), covered all 121 Australian emergency departments accredited by ACEM. More than half of the hospitals surveyed reported at least once incident in which a patient waited for a bed for more than 12 hours.

Study author associate professor Drew Richardson said the figures were consistent with surveys the group has collected over the past five years that show too many patients are waiting too long to receive proper care.

“They reflect a hospital system that is critically overburdened and is putting patients into the firing line,” Richardson said. “A statistic like that should be sending an alarm bell to healthcare authorities across the country. It’s completely unacceptable.”

ACEM also pointed out that longer stays in the ED are associated with poorer health outcomes, especially among older patients.

Dr Simon Judkins, chair of the ACEM Hospital Overcrowding Subcommittee, said blocked access and overcrowding are significant contributors to burnout and stress for patients, physicians and nurses. He says they affect the ability of staff to pursue long careers in emergency medicine.

“There is no doubt that it affects succession planning [and] our ability to get good people into senior roles, because everybody understands that this problem of access and overcrowding has been going on for a long time and we need to find a solution.”

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