Border and North East emergency departments are being flooded with patients needing non-urgent care.
More than 50,000 patients from areas including Albury, Wodonga, Wangaratta, Benalla, the Upper Murray and Alpine were triaged in an emergency department last year as lower urgency presentations, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The report, Use of emergency departments for lower urgency care: 2015-16 to 2018-19, showed almost one in three patients from the Upper Murray statistical area presented to an ED needing lower urgency care.
Lower urgency care is both triage category four (semi-urgent) and category five (non-urgent).
There were 276.7 all-hours lower urgency presentations per 1000 people in the Upper Murray and almost half were after hours.
In the Wodonga - Alpine area 18,372 patients fell into those categories.
There were 15,890 Albury residents with lower urgency presentations across the 12 months, which is 247.6 per 1000 people.
Of those, 3548 were under the age of 14 and 2893 were for patients between 15 and 24 years old.
The statistics released in the report this morning were from before the summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
AIHW spokesperson Michael Frost said regional presentations are higher than their metropolitan counterparts and not all lower urgency patients could be treated in a primary health care setting.
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"For instance, an elderly person living in a small regional town who fractures their arm may be more appropriately treated at an ED rather than their local GP," he said.
"This person may receive a triage category of four or five but may have pre-existing health conditions and need diagnostic imaging tests not readily available at the GP.
"Understanding how and when people use EDs can help improve decision-making, service planning, and care coordination."
Between the two Albury Wodonga Health emergency departments, AIHW data revealed Wodonga ED received 1714 more category four and five presentations than the Albury-based department.
Of the 21,287 lower urgency presentations in the 2018-19 year, 4435 of them in Wodonga were triaged to be non-urgent.
Albury ED had 17,124 semi-urgent and 2443 non-urgent patients over the 12 months.
The average time spent in both emergency departments, including time spent in the waiting room and being treated was around two hours.
Wodonga's median time spent in ED was two hours and five minutes, Albury was two hours and 43 minutes.
These times are up from one hour and 51 minutes in Wodonga and two hours and 31 minutes in Albury in the 12 months prior.
North East Health Wangaratta also had their fair share of lower urgency presentations last year - 12,172 presentations were triaged as semi-urgent or category four, while 3330 were classed as non-urgent or category five.
The median time spent in the Wangaratta ED was two hours and 49 minutes.
Albury Wodonga Health was approached for comment but didn't respond to questions put to them by The Border Mail in time for deadline yesterday.
Across the country there were more than 2.9 million lower urgency presentations in public emergency departments.
This equates to just 117.4 presentations per 1000 people.
The southern NSW and northern Victorian region is around three times this amount.
Lower urgency cases are those where people are assessed as needing semi-urgent care within one hour or non-urgent care within two hours.
This does not include people who arrived by ambulance or police, were subsequently admitted to hospital or died.
The 2018-19 Australian Bureau of Statistics Patient Experience Survey found nationally 58 per cent said they were taken by ambulance, the condition was serious or they were sent to emergency by a GP.
One in five or 21 per cent reported the main reason was because a GP was not available when required.
Less than one per cent said it was was because the ED was lower in cost than visiting a GP.