Clearing emergency departments and clogging wards: National Emergency Access Target and the law of unintended consequences

Marlon L. Perera, Alexander W. Davies, Neiraja Gnaneswaran, Marian Giles, Danny Liew, Peter Ritchie, Steven T F Chan

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To assess ED length of stay (EDLOS), access block, inpatient length of stay (IPLOS) and waiting times before and after the implementation of the National Emergency Access Target (NEAT). Methods: This was designed as a retrospective cohort study and data was collected from electronic patient management systems. The control group represented all emergency presentations between June 2011 and September 2011, 1 year prior to the introduction of NEAT. The study groups were assessed and included all ED presentations between June and September 2012 and 2013 respectively. Main outcome measures were waiting times, EDLOS, proportion of patients cleared from the ED within NEAT goals, hospital length of stay and hospital mortality rates. Results: A cumulative total of 76 935 patients were included in the study. During the course of the study, clearance from the ED within NEAT targets rose from 49.0% to 53.2% [relative risk (RR) 1.09; 95% CI, 1.07-1.11; P < 0.001]. ED waiting times decreased from 1.05 h [interquartile range (IQR), 0.43-2.27] to 0.45 h (IQR, 0.17-1.22) (P < 0.001) and time from bedrequest to ward access increased. Utilisation of emergency short stay units (SSU) increased significantly across the study period from 6.5% to 13.4% (P < 0.001). Rates of inpatient transfers increased eightfold (RR, 7.93; 95% CI, 5.98-10.51; P < 0.001) and IPLOS increased by 21% from 2.05 (IQR, 0.75-4.96) to 2.50 days (IQR, 1.12-4.99) (P < 0.001). Hospital mortality remained unchanged from 3.0% to 3.3% (RR, 1.10; 95% CI, 0.91-1.34; P = 0.311). Conclusions: At the current institution NEAT success has been guarded, likely secondary to availability of inpatient beds. The implementation of NEAT appears to have reduced emergency waiting times. These early results suggest concurrent a detrimental effect on IPLOS; however, some of this effect may be a result of a large increase in short stay admissions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-555
Number of pages7
JournalEmergency Medicine Australasia
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Crowding
  • Emergency service
  • Health services accessibility
  • Length of stay

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