A study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the journal for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM,) has found that a time-based target introduced into hospitals in 2011 can significantly reduce emergency department overcrowding and improve hospital performance.
The research, carried out over three years at the Redcliffe Hospital in Brisbane, found that the National Emergency Access Target (NEAT) – introduced across Australia in 2011 as a way to ease overburdened EDs – had significantly improved the rate at which patients gained access to care.
NEAT requires a proportion of patients be assessed and moved out of the ED into the hospital ward within four hours. An update report from the National Health Report Authority (NHPA) in early 2014 confirmed that NEAT was leading to improved efficiencies in public hospitals across Australia.
But ACEM President Dr Anthony Cross warned that these advances could be wiped out by the federal government’s budgetary measures.
“The federal government has indicated it plans to scrap the National Partnership Agreement for Improving Public Hospitals – which underpins NEAT – in July 2015,” said Dr Cross.
“Doing this, and implementing other budgetary measures such as the GP co-payment, would jeopardise the very real gains in hospital efficiency we’ve made over the past few years.”
All the evidence shows that NEAT is having a positive effect on patient outcomes, Dr Cross said.
“The instigation of a time-based target isn’t a panacea but has helped many emergency departments drive positive organisational change at a time when the capacity of hospitals is under strain and demand is increasing,” he said.
“ACEM seeks to work with federal and state governments to guide development and implementation of strategies leading to better access to care through EDs,” said Dr Cross.
“I urge Minister Ley to meet with us to discuss these issues and develop real solutions to the complex long-term problems facing the Australian healthcare system.”
Trends in access block 2011 to 2013: The Redcliffe National Emergency Access Target experience, Luke D Lawton, Simon Thomas andDouglas G Morel, Emergency Medicine Australasia, DOI: 10.1111/1742-6723.12345, published online 8 January 2015.