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Emergency Departments

Going to Emergency | Emergency Admission | What Happens in Emergency? | How Soon Will I See a Doctor? | What Happens After Emergency?

Going to Emergency

If you seriously hurt yourself or become really sick, you can go to a hospital Emergency Department for urgent treatment.
Emergency Departments are attached to a large number of public hospitals across NSW. You don't need to make an appointment—just turn up by car, public transport or walk in off the street. The hospital Emergency Department is clearly sign-posted to guide you. If you are really sick or hurt, you may arrive by ambulance.
Emergency Departments are open 24 hours a day. In some small rural hospitals, doctors may be on call from home. Emergency medicine doctors and nurses specialise in treating patients who are suffering from a serious illness or injury that could get worse if not treated quickly.
Remember, Emergency Departments are always open and are very busy places, particularly in winter.
Minor illnesses or injuries are best treated by your local family doctor or after hours Medical Centre.

Emergency Admission

Hospital Emergency Departments will never turn away seriously ill or life-threatening emergencies. Emergency admissions are much harder to plan for and the patients tend to be more acutely ill and more difficult and more expensive to care for.
In 2006/07, more than 141,000 people were admitted to a ward bed, intensive care unit or operating theatre within a hospital after being seen in an Emergency Department.
Co-ordinating the activities of the Emergency Department with the rest of the hospital is a very complex and ongoing task. When a bed is not immediately available for a patient, the continuing care of the patient usually remains with the staff of the Emergency Department.
If the "emergency demand" increases suddenly or there are many booked admissions into hospital on any day, some patients may experience delays in being moved from the Emergency Department to a ward bed. This is known as "access block".

What Happens in Emergency?

The first person you will see in Emergency is the Triage Nurse (pronounced tree-arj) who works near the reception area. The Triage Nurse or reception clerk will ask for your personal/family and contact details and your Medicare card.

The Triage Nurse will decide how urgent your condition is. If your condition is very urgent you will be seen sooner by a doctor than if your condition is less urgent. Very sick patients will always be seen as soon as possible.
The Triage Nurse is experienced in assessing your condition and will sort out the priority of your care soon after your arrival. The Triage Nurse may even commence your care. This means that you won't necessarily be seen by a doctor as soon as you arrive at the Emergency Department.
If your doctor refers you to emergency, the Triage Nurse will still have to work out how urgent your condition is. Your local doctor will not be aware of the other sick patients who are already there or waiting for treatment. Even if your local doctor has phoned ahead, you may have to wait if there are more urgent patients.

How Soon Will I See a Doctor?

Severely ill or injured patients are always treated as soon as possible by doctors.
Patients assessed as not needing immediate medical attention may have to wait longer in the waiting room of the Emergency Department than more sick or injured patients.
If more urgent cases come in, like a major road smash, you may have to wait longer as these injuries may require immediate attention.
•  If your condition gets worse while you are waiting, tell the Triage Nurse immediately.
•  If you think your condition can be treated by your local doctor, ask the Triage Nurse for advice.
•  If you decide not to wait, tell the Triage Nurse.

What Happens After Emergency?

A doctor or nurse will let you know if and when you are ready to go. They will also let you know what is happening with your care or treatment, so don't hesitate to ask questions if you don't understand what's happening.
Before you leave Emergency, you may be asked to see or call your family doctor to make sure everything is okay. If you have had stitches, a plaster, or a cast put on, you will be told how long they are to remain in place.
If you need more hospital care, the doctor may have you admitted into the hospital. If this happens, you will be taken to a hospital ward when a bed is available. When the hospital is busy, you may have to wait some time for a ward bed. However, while you are waiting to go to the ward you will still be receiving care.
Alternatively, you may be transferred by ambulance to another hospital that has a more appropriate range of services available to treat your condition.
If you are discharged and are able to go home, make sure that you:

•  understand your treatment and any medications you may need to take
•  know when you need to see a doctor again
•  ask about a medical certificate and/or a letter for your doctor.

This web page is managed and authorised by Demand & Performance Evaluation of the NSW Department of Health. Last updated: 30 March, 2009

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