AAP FactCheck

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

Are NSW emergency departments treating people faster despite a rise in the number of patients and serious cases?

By Louise Evans, James Lane & Tiffanie Turnbull

The Statement

"The number of patients presenting to emergency in NSW hospitals is up 42 per cent, and the complexity of illnesses is up, but our incredible ED staff are getting patients seen and treated faster than ever before."

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard claims emergency departments are operating more efficiently under his government. March 6, 2019.

The Analysis

Mr Hazzard said people attending emergency departments in NSW’s public hospitals are getting a better service under his government than when Labor was in power in 2010, despite medical staff now facing greater challenges. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Hazzard’s claims that the number of patients attending emergency in NSW hospitals has risen 42 per cent since 2010 and the percentage of serious cases has also increased. AAP FactCheck also investigated his claim ED staff were more efficient in processing patients under his government.

AAP FactCheck found only one of the minister's three claims was true.

A spokesperson for the minister told AAP FactCheck his comments were made based on comparing data from the NSW government’s Bureau of Health Information (BHI) for October-December 2018 with 2010 data from the same quarter when Labor was in power.

According to the BHI, emergency presentations are defined as “all presentations that have a triage category and are coded as emergency presentations or unplanned return visits”. Records are also kept on all presentations to emergency - including those which aren’t coded as an emergency. [2 - page 1]

The number of emergency presentations for October to December 2018 is 724,306 while the number for the same quarter in 2010 is 526,596, according to BHI’s October to December quarterly Emergency Department Performance Profile lists. [2 - page 2] That’s an increase of 37.5 per cent since 2010.

Mr Hazzard’s figure of a 42 per cent rise in patients attending emergency is calculated by comparing all presentations to emergency departments for the 2018 October to December quarter - including non-emergencies. The data used to calculate the same period in 2010 under Labor includes emergency-coded presentations only. A comparison of BHI data for all presentations for the 2018 December quarter is 749,504 and for the same quarter in 2010 is 535,790 - a difference of 39.9 per cent. [2 - page 1] [3]

A comparison of the same figures from 2018 and 2010, therefore, do not support Mr Hazzard’s claim of a 42 per cent increase.

The minister’s claim there has been a rise in the complexity of cases is true. Mr Hazzard’s spokesperson told AAP FactCheck his claim was based on the number of patients allocated to Triage 1 and 2 categories - which are the most serious of all presentations. [2 - page 2]

In October-December 2018, BHI figures show 348,459 or 48.1 per cent of all presentations were Triage 1 or 2 patients. For the same quarter in 2010, the number was 202,346 or 38.4 per cent. [2 - page 2]

But the evidence does not support Mr Hazzard’s claim patients are being treated faster than ever before in emergency departments.

The BHI 2018 quarterly performance figures show 72 per cent of patients spent four hours or less in ED. [2 - page 1] The figures in the report only go back to 2010. Based on this report, the best emergency clearance rate within four hours or less was in 2014 with 74.7 per cent, and 2018 was ranked fifth. [2 - page 9] Similarly, the December quarter 2018 median wait time of two hours and 49 minutes was the worst for the same quarter across the previous six years according to BHI. [2 - page 7]

According to BHI records, the minister’s claim patients are being seen and treated faster than ever before is false.

AAP FactCheck concludes only one of Mr Hazzard’s three claims is true. The number of serious cases have increased since 2010, but the number of patients presenting to emergency in NSW hospitals has not increased by 42 per cent since 2010, and patients are not being seen and treated faster than ever before.

The Verdict

  • Mostly False - Mostly false with one minor element of truth.

The References

1: ‘NSW emergency departments deluged with more patients than ever’, by Kate Aubusson. The Sydney Morning Herald. March 6, 2019: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/nsw-emergency-departments-deluged-with-more-patients-than-ever-20190305-p511y6.html

2: Healthcare Quarterly Emergency department Performance Profiles October to December 2018. NSW Bureau of Health Information. (Pages 1, 2, 7, 9). February 2019: http://www.bhi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/478230/HQ_35_Profile_SAS_NSW_ED_AllNSW.pdf

3: Hospital Quarterly Performance of NSW public hospitals October to December 2010. NSW Bureau of Health Information. (Page 24). February 2011: http://www.bhi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/169361/HQ3_October-December2010.pdf

Revision History

  • First published March 7, 2019 16:45 AEDT