A new report card on the health of the nation’s emergency departments has found patients in regional areas are receiving faster treatment than their metropolitan cousins.
The review of 122 major, large and medium hospitals revealed patients in regional emergency departments were more likely to be discharged or found a bed on a ward within four hours of arrival.
The National Health Performance Authority report, released this morning, offers some rare good news for country hospitals, which usually don’t have the staff or resources on offer at much bigger hospitals in capital cities.
State and federal governments have set themselves the target of having 90 per cent of patients leave the ED within four hours by 2015.
But in a sign of how ambitious that target is, just 53 per cent of patients left major metropolitan emergency departments within four hours last financial year, compared to a healthier 63 per cent at major regional hospitals.
Lismore, in northern NSW, was the worst performing ‘major’ regional hospital surveyed, with just 47 per cent of patients discharged or admitted to a ward within four hours. Bunbury, in Western Australia, was the best performer.
Grafton, also in northern NSW, was the slowest ‘large’ regional hospital surveyed and Albany, again in WA, was the quickest. A hospital classified as ‘large’ is slightly smaller than those deemed ‘major’.
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine warned the results did not portray the full story of what was happening inside our hospital system.
“While these simplistic measurements do not provide an appropriate indication of the quality and safety of patient care, the findings clearly show that the healthcare system is under unacceptable strain,” organisation’s president Dr Anthony Cross said
“The issues leading to prolonged time in ED often lie beyond the ED. The reality is that many patients who languish in the ED waiting for a hospital bed are there because the hospital/health system is working inefficiently.”
When broken down to the time it takes for a patient to be admitted to a ward after being treated in the ED, just one in ten at Coffs Harbour Hospital were found a bed within four hours, compared to nearly five in ten at several other hospitals.
The time it takes to discharge a patient from the ED who requires no further treatment also came under scrutiny. Ballarat Hospital and Wodonga Hospital were the fastest, with well over 90 per cent of patients out the door within four hours. Lismore Hospital and Grafton Hospital were among the slowest.
Dr Cross said hospitals identified as ‘under-performing’ should not be penalised and called for additional resources to boost their performance.