Objective: Access block is the inability of ED patients requiring admission to access appropriate inpatient beds in a timely fashion, defined in Australasia as more than 8 h in the ED. The present study describes changes in prevalence of access block in Australia over a 4 year period.
Methods: Email, telephone and fax survey of ED on six Mondays at 10.00 hours (31 May, 30 August 2004, 18 June, 3 September 2007, 2 June, 2 September 2008). Data collected included point data on the status of patients in the ED at the index time and of recent ED attendance numbers. Results were collated and analysed by state and hospital role delineation.
Results: Forty-eight (60%) of 80 eligible ED answered all six surveys. Presentations to the ED the day before rose 15% (P < 0.0001, paired t-test) in 4 years, and nationally access block patients in the ED rose an average of 27%, and patients waiting to be seen by a doctor 31%. There were differences between states, with hospitals in New South Wales reporting a significant reduction in access block patients (−51%, P= 0.0002), but all other states a significant increase (+45%, P= 0.001). There were differences by role delineation, with non-paediatric major referral hospitals experiencing the greatest access block, but smaller hospitals experiencing the greatest increase in patients waiting.
Conclusions: Around one-third of all patients receiving care in these ED surveys were experiencing access block. There is evidence that flow through New South Wales ED has improved. The data suggest that most hospitals have passed the point of efficiency.