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Why are there long waits at English Emergency Departments?

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JournalEuropean Journal of Health Economics
DateAccepted/In press - 23 Sep 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 24 Oct 2019
Number of pages10
Early online date24/10/19
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

A core performance target for the English National Health Service (NHS) concerns waiting times at Emergency Departments (EDs), with the aim of minimising long waits. We investigate the drivers of long waits. We analyse weekly data for all major EDs in England from April 2011 to March 2016. A Poisson model with ED fixed effects is used to explore the impact on long (> 4 hour) waits of variations in demand (population need and patient case-mix) and supply (emergency physicians, introduction of a Minor Injury Unit (MIU), inpatient bed occupancy, delayed discharges and long-term care). We assess overall ED waits and waits on a trolley (gurney) before admission. We also investigate variation in performance among EDs. The rate of long overall waits is higher in EDs serving older patients (4.2%), where a higher proportion of attendees leave without being treated (15.1%), in EDs with a higher death rate (3.3%) and in those located in hospitals with greater bed occupancy (1.5%). These factors are also significantly associated with higher rates of long trolley waits. The introduction of a co-located MIU is significantly and positively associated with long overall waits, but not with trolley waits.. There is substantial variation in waits among EDs that cannot be explained by observed demand and supply characteristics. The drivers of long waits are only partially understood but addressing them is likely to require a multi-faceted approach. EDs with high rates of unexplained long waits would repay further investigation to ascertain how they might improve.

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© The Author(s) 2019

    Research areas

  • Emergency Department (ED); Accident and Emergency (A&E); National Health Service (NHS); Waiting Time; Length of Stay

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