There have been notable changes in the provision of emergency department services over the last decade, principally by increasing the number, seniority and training of staff and upgrading facilities. More recently, programs have focussed on achieving improvements in emergency department waiting times (the time taken to see a doctor) and access block (delay in accessing a hospital bed). However, these programs have had limited effect. Although waiting times for seriously ill patients have decreased, waiting times for around 95% of emergency department patients have increased or remain unchanged and performance against benchmarks for access block has declined each year.
Although The Audit Office identified opportunities to improve patient flow in the emergency department, benefits will be limited by access block and the congestion caused by being unable to move patients to a ward. Only a better balance of resources between inpatient access programs (that is booked and emergency department patients) will bring about improvements in access block.