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Media release, July 2013
RELEASED: 11AM THURSDAY 25 JULY 2013

Latest emergency department data shows big improvements for some

Half of Australia’s largest hospitals have recorded notable improvements in the time patients spent in emergency departments (ED) compared to the same period last year, information released today by the National Health Performance Authority reveals.

Figures published on the Authority’s MyHospitals website show that in the March 2013 quarter, 26 of 52 major metropolitan hospitals increased the percentage of patients who leave the ED within four hours by at least 5 percentage points compared to the same period one year earlier.

Out of 11 major metropolitan hospitals that improved more than 10 percentage points, seven were from Queensland, three from NSW and one from Victoria. Conversely, three major metropolitan hospitals declined by at least 5 percentage points; two of these three, both located in Western Australia, declined by 9 percentage points. Among major metropolitan hospitals, anywhere from 43% to 80% of patients left the ED within four hours.

Hospitals in most states will have to make further improvements to reach a nationally agreed target for 90% of patients to leave EDs within four hours by 2015. Under the National Emergency Access Target (NEAT) introduced last year, each state and territory has its own target for the percentage of patients leaving ED within four hours for 2012, 2013 and 2014, leading up to the 2015 90% national target.

Today’s new figures show that across all the 122 hospitals large enough to be allocated to one of five peer groups (major metropolitan, large metropolitan, medium, major regional and large regional hospitals) - which together account for about 90% of ED presentations nationally - 46 hospitals improved by 5 or more percentage points, while 10 hospitals declined by the same magnitude.

The hospital with the biggest single improvement was the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane - which was identified in the Authority’s December 2012 report on ED access times as having the lowest percentage in Australia of patients leaving ED within four hours in 2011–12. Princess Alexandra Hospital has improved from 33% in the March 2012 quarter to 62% in the March 2013 quarter, making rapid progress towards its state target.

Comparing January–March 2013 to January–March 2012:

  • In NSW, nine of 44 peer grouped hospitals improved their performance by 10 or more percentage points and none declined by 5 or more percentage points. The percentage of patients leaving ED within four hours at NSW major metropolitan hospitals ranged from 43% at one hospital to 72% at one hospital in the March 2013 quarter.
  • In Queensland, 13 of 24 peer grouped hospitals improved their performance by 10 or more percentage points, and none declined by 5 or more percentage points. The percentage of patients leaving ED within four hours at Queensland major metropolitan hospitals ranged from 62% at some hospitals to 80% at one hospital in the March 2013 quarter.
  • In Victoria, seven of 28 peer grouped hospitals improved their performance by 5 or more percentage points, and three declined by 5 or more percentage points. The percentage of patients leaving ED within four hours at Victorian major metropolitan hospitals ranged from 48% at one hospital to 75% at one hospital in the March 2013 quarter.
  • In Western Australia, none of the 12 peer grouped hospitals improved by 5 or more percentage points, and six declined by 5 or more percentage points. The percentage of patients leaving ED within four hours at Western Australian major metropolitan hospitals ranged from 62% at one hospital to 74% at one hospital in the March 2013 quarter.
  • In South Australia, one of six peer grouped hospitals improved by 5 or more percentage points, and one declined by 5 or more percentage points. The percentage of patients leaving ED within four hours at South Australian major metropolitan hospitals ranged from 50% at one hospital to 63% at one hospital in the March 2013 quarter.
  • In the ACT, the percentage of patients leaving ED within four hours at major metropolitan hospitals ranged from 53% at one hospital to 63% at one hospital in the March 2013 quarter.

Authority CEO Dr Diane Watson said that these results come in the wake of the Authority’s December 2012 report that compared the length of time in ED across peer hospitals for the first time.

“Having evidence through performance reporting empowers health professionals to see which hospitals are making the biggest improvements in the time patients spent in ED and to learn from their example.”

“Performance reporting is important. It can be difficult to know what is possible if you don’t know how you compare with your peers.”

The MyHospitals update also includes new data published on elective (planned) surgery and shows that patients who are on an ‘urgent’ waiting list are not always getting their surgery within the clinically recommended time of no later than 30 days. The findings show there are individual hospitals in all peer groups where 100% of patients were seen within the recommended timeframe. Among major metropolitan hospitals 81–100% of ‘urgent’ patients were seen within the clinically recommended time, however, one major regional hospital was as low as 56%.

However, it is important to note that the application of urgency categories varies between states and territories, which can affect comparative results. Work is under way to support more consistency in the application of these categories.

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