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Emergency departments are a critical component of Australia’s health care system. Many of Australia’s public hospitals have purpose-built emergency departments, staffed 24 hours a day, providing care for patients who require urgent medical attention.

In 2016–17:

•there were about 7.8 million presentations to Australian public hospital emergency departments, an average of more than 21,000 per day

•patients aged 4 and under (who make up less than 7% of the population) accounted for about 11% of all emergency department presentations

•patients aged 65 and over (who make up about 15% of the population) accounted for more than 21% of emergency department presentations

•about one-quarter (or almost 2 million) of emergency department presentations had a principal diagnosis in the ICD-10-AM chapter Injury, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes

•the two most common individual principal diagnoses reported were Abdominal and pelvic pain (4.3%), and Pain in the throat and chest (3.6%)

•about 73% of all presentations were ‘seen on time’ (within the clinically recommended time for their triage category), with almost 100% of Resuscitation patients (needs care immediately), 77% of Emergency (needs care within 10 minutes) patients, and 92% of Non-urgent (needs care within 120 minutes) ‘seen on time’

•the proportion of presentations that were ‘seen on time’ ranged from 61% in the Northern Territory to 81% in New South Wales

•about 72% of emergency department presentations were completed in 4 hours or less, varying from 64% in South Australia and the Northern Territory to 75% in New South Wales

•about 31% of patients were admitted to hospital after their emergency department care; 49% were admitted in 4 hours or less, and 90% within 10 hours and 44 minutes.

Between 2012–13 and 2016–17:

•presentations to emergency departments increased by 3.7% on average each year. After adjusting for coverage changes, presentations increased by an estimated 2.6% on average each year

•the proportion of presentations that were ‘seen on time’ (within the clinically recommended time) was fairly stable across the period, ranging from 73% (in 2012–13 and 2016–17) to 75% (in 2013–14)

•the proportion of emergency department presentations completed in 4 hours or less rose from 67% in 2012–13 to 73% in 2015–16, and decreased to 72% in 2016–17.

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