Can we fix our ailing hospital emergency departments?

I was in Sydney on Monday to attend a fantastic discussion forum on ‘SBS Insight’ hosted by Jenny Brockie.

The estimate of about 1500 deaths a year due to overcrowded emergency departments…from the period 2002- 2004 roughly corresponds to the road toll each year at that time.

The title of the discussion was broad – ‘Can we fix our ailing hospital emergency departments?‘ – but thanks to extensive background research and a well-drilled production team – a large proportion of the important issues were dealt with. The audience mix was as diverse as the topic areas covered and included patients failed by the system; patients accepting of the system; emergency trainees; triage nurses; health economists; ambulance officers; nurse practitioners; emergency physicians and an experienced panel of experts.

We surveyed every major emergency department in the country at 10 o’clock yesterday morning…at that time, there were 448 patients around the country in emergency departments, who were simply waiting for an inpatient bed and had been there more than 8 hours…there were only 427 patients around the country actually waiting to see a doctor.If it weren’t for the people unnecessarily waiting for beds there would be no wait to see a doctor in our Emergency departments. – Dr Drew Richardson


The forum included

  • A well-worked balance of both positive and negative patient experiences of emergency department care.
  • Insight into the critical issues of access block, waiting times, ED overcrowding and the global deficiency in appropriate bed numbers.
  • Evidence of the frustration of the emergency medical, nursing, clerical and allied health staff.

Unfortunately the hour long program only had time to touch briefly on some of the potential solutions to the crisis in emergency care in Australia. In particular the four hour rule was discussed by Professor Frank Daly. Professor Daly is one of two doctor’s from the WA Health Department who are leading the charge to implement the four-hour rule – an ambitious plan to see that 98% of patients arriving at emergency departments are seen, discharged or transferred within four hours from the time of triage.

I encourage you to read the transcript of the program or watch the entire program online.

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