Overcrowding in emergency departments (EDs) occurs when the physical or staffing capacity of the department is exceeded by the number of patients waiting to be seen, undergoing assessment and treatment or waiting for departure.
Overcrowding occurs in Australia and elsewhere in the developed world and has been well documented over the past decade. It became generally recognised that this problem had come about through a combination of factors. Upstream factors included increased numbers of patients presenting to emergency departments, a rapidly growing population and reduction of available public hospital beds. Downstream factors included lack of aged care beds in the community. It is generally accepted that overcrowding in Australia and other countries is due to bed occupancy rates above 85% rather than increased presentation of low acuity patients.