Children are dominating presentations at hospital emergency departments, new research has revealed. Photo: Damian ShawYoung children and people aged in their 20s are visiting public hospital emergency departments in greater numbers than the elderly, a new study has found.
The research raises questions about why some children are being taken to hospital instead of GPs and follows concern paediatric hospitals are being overloaded with demand, blowing out waiting times for care.
For years, elderly Australians have been mostly blamed for increasing demand on health care services, but while their needs are high, in absolute numbers they are not the greatest consumers of emergency department services.
A study of people presenting to Victoria’s 24-hour emergency departments between 2002 and 2013 found that children aged zero to four were the largest group seen consistently over time and had increased 29 per cent to 161,988in 2012-13.
The second largest group were those aged 20 to 24 who collectively increased 49 per cent to 112,127 in 2012-13.
In contrast, patients aged 75 to 79 jumped 45 per cent to 57,065 in 2012-13.
The study, published in Emergency Medicine Australasia this month, revealed a 55 per cent surge in all emergency patients to 2013, and the fastest growth was in triage categories one to three – the highest urgency groups which include heart attacks, strokes, major trauma and serious illnesses such as meningococcal.
However, it did find that the majority of young people seeking care were classified triage category four and five, making them less urgent patients, and that older patients were more likely to require urgent care.
The researchers said while it was unclear why so many children were seeking hospital treatment, it was possible they were not seeing GPs as much as they should be.
Despite more children surviving with chronic illnesses for longer than ever before, the researchers said the number of children using extended GP consultations usually dedicated to complex cases had decreased over the past 20 years.
The researchers said it was also possible that people went to emergency departments when they could not see a GP; that parents do not sufficiently trust GPs to care for their children; and that GPs are referring parents to emergency departments because they do not feel capable of treating them.
The research team, led by Melbourne University paediatric professor Gary Freed, called for authorities to ensure “adequate capacity and workforce within both the primary care as well as emergency services systems to provide care to patients, regardless of their age”.
“Increasing demand absent a corresponding increase in ED (emergency department) capacity can impact patient safety by contributing to overcrowding, longer waiting times and an increased risk of adverse events,” he wrote.
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