Older patients are suffering most of all from overcrowded hospitals, according to new research undertaken in Canberra.
A recent three-year study conducted by the Australian National University Medical School looked at the experiences of over 13,000 patients aged over 50.
It found that patients who waited more than four hours to be transferred to a bed in the main body of the hospital after receiving their emergency care were 51 per cent more likely to die than people who waited less than four hours. The finding calls into question the rationale used by hospitals to decide which patients are moved into a bed first.
The study's author, Associate Professor Drew Richardson – chair of Road Trauma and Emergency Medicine at the Australian National University Medical School presented these findings at the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) Winter Symposium in Alice Springs, this week.
"In emergency departments (EDs), we take in the most vulnerable patients first," said Associate Professor Drew Richardson who conducted the study, "But hospitals are using a different cirteria to decide who should be moved from the ED to the main body of the hospital."
"The sicker patients with the more complex problems - who are almost always over 50 - are not being admitted into the hospital as soon as they should be to receive the care they need,"
Ideally, a person admitted to an ED is given the acute care they need and then either sent home or moved into the main body of the hospital to receive further care. But with Australia's growing, ageing population there are fewer hospital beds available, leading to overcrowded EDs and ambulance 'ramping'.
"This important research adds to the already significant body of evidence demonstrating the very real negative health impacts caused by access block," said Dr Anthony Cross, ACEM President.
"The likelihood of these findings being replicated in hospitals across Australia is high, which paints a concerning picture about the level of care over-50s can expect from our health system."
"Older patients shouldn't be put at risk simply becuase their more complex conditions require more resources."
Australasian College for Emergency Medicine Winter Symposium 26-28 July 2015