AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Are one-third of people attending emergency departments waiting longer than recommended?

By Tiffanie Turnbull and Louise Evans

The Statement

“More than one-third of people who present to emergency departments are waiting longer than is clinically recommended.”

Shadow Minister for Finance Jim Chalmers. May 5, 2019.

The Analysis

Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers said health is Labor’s highest spending priority and claims Labor’s $500 million pledge to upgrade Australia’s emergency departments is desperately needed because one in three people presenting to EDs are not seen within the recommended time. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Chalmers’ claim one-third of people who present to emergency departments are waiting longer than is clinically recommended.

Mr Chalmers and Labor leader Bill Shorten announced additional funding for hospital beds and staff at the ALP campaign launch in Brisbane on May 5, 2019. [2]

When people go to emergency departments at Australia’s hospitals, they are ‘triaged’ - allocated into one of five categories depending on the urgency of their ailment.

The recommended treatment time, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, varies across the five categories of resuscitation, emergency, urgent, semi-urgent, non-urgent - from immediately to within 120 minutes. [3]

According to the most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data from 2017–18, there were more than eight million presentations to public hospital emergency departments, an increase of 3.4 per cent on the previous year. [3]

Almost three quarters - 72 per cent - of those patients were treated within the recommended timeframe for their triage category. [3]

Mr Chalmer’s claim relies on statistics from the report showing 64 per cent - just under two thirds - of patients triaged in the urgent category were not seen on time, ie within 30 minutes. [3]

Urgent was the worst performing of the five categories and is not a true indication of on-time treatment across all five triage categories.

According to the report 100 per cent of resuscitation cases were treated on time. For the other categories, 76 per cent of emergency patients were treated on time, 64 per cent of urgent patients, 73 per cent of semi-urgent cases and 92 per cent of non-urgent presentations.

AAP FactCheck concludes Mr Chalmer’s claim that one-third of patients presenting to emergency are waiting for treatment for longer than is recommended is false.

The Verdict

  • False - The checkable claim is false.

The References

1. Sky News TV. May 5, 2019: https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust/status/1124800931667664897

2. Labor wants to add 650 beds to hospitals, by Katina Curtis. Canberra Times/Australian Associated Press. May 6, 2019: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6106979/labor-wants-to-add-650-beds-to-hospitals/?cs=14231

3. Emergency department care 2017–18 (pages 4, 44). Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. March 1, 2019: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/9ca4c770-3c3b-42fe-b071-3d758711c23a/aihw-hse-216.pdf.aspx?inline=true

  • First published May 6, 2019 17:21 AEST