The emergency department and non-urgent presentations: What is northern Tasmania’s experience?

Each year there are in excess of 7.5 million presentations to emergency departments (EDs) across Australia, half of these are triaged into the two least urgent triage categories. A total of 3.8 million presentations arrived at EDs across Australia between July 2016 and June 2017 with non-urgent conditions, the equivalent of the entire population of Melbourne. Within Tasmania, just under 84,000 (54%) were triaged into these least urgent categories. Recent research in Northern Tasmania demonstrated that 40% of patients presenting with non-urgent conditions had unsuccessfully attempted to access alternative services before arriving at the ED, 29% indicated they had been referred to the ED by their GP or practice nurse. This current body of work aims to identify the healthcare needs of patients presenting to the ED with non-urgent conditions who have been unsuccessful in accessing alternative services.
Initial findings demonstrate an over-representation of patients from suburbs with low socio-economic index for advantage (SEIFA) scores, with individuals from the lowest ranking suburbs being up to four times more likely than those from mid to high ranked suburbs in their incidence of ED access. Patients under 25 years of age were also over represented whilst the most frequent discharge diagnosis was the result of minor injuries.
This presentation will also include discussion from patient and general practice interviews in order to identify factors contributing to ED access with non-urgent conditions. It is anticipated that findings from this project will be used in future planning of healthcare services across Tasmania.


Maria Unwin RN, BN(Hons), GradDip Nurs, PhD Candidate

Maria has spent her nursing career mostly within the clinical environment working in paediatric and emergency units in regional Tasmania. Over the past 25 years she has observed a continued increase in the demand for healthcare services and is acutely aware of the impact this has on her local emergency department and community. This concern lead to undertaking an Honours research project in 2015 focusing on patients’ perspectives for accessing the emergency department with non-urgent conditions. Following from this Maria commenced a PhD in 2017 continuing to investigate the issues raised in her Honours research and aiming to identify what services would best suit this patient group.

With family, research, nursing, the national CENA board and a small family business to juggle spare time does not happen often but when it does Maria enjoys travelling, camping, bushwalking and gardening.