Access to hospitals

Providing access to appropriate and timely health care is an integral component of hospital care. This section explores several measures of access to Australia’s hospitals including waiting times for selected services. 

Explore more information about access to hospitals via the links at the bottom of the page.

Access to hospitals

All data in these visualisations are available for download in the Data & downloads section of the MyHospitals website.

Public hospitals in Australia

The size, number of beds and activity of these hospitals varied by hospital peer group.

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Admitted patient care – remoteness area

In 2019–20, hospitalisations per 1,000 population in public hospitals increased with increased remoteness.

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Admitted patient care – socioeconomic status

In 2019–20, people who lived in the lowest SES area were more likely to be admitted to a public hospital compared to people living in other areas.

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How is the accessibility of hospitals measured?

An accessible hospital system delivers healthcare that is timely, within a reasonable geographic distance and provides services in a setting where skills and resources are appropriate to a person’s medical need (WHO 2006).

Accessibility of Australia’s hospitals can be measured in several ways, including:

  • waiting times to access services
  • geographic location, socioeconomic status and Indigenous status of the people who use hospital services, and
  • number and location of services and hospitals.

Admitted patient care

In 2020–21, 696 public hospitals in Australia provided admitted patient care services.

  • Hospitalisation rates were higher for women (479 per 1,000) than men (444 per 1,000), particularly between the ages of 15–44.
  • Men were more likely than women to have a hospitalisation at the age of 55–64 (658 and 588 per 1,000 respectively) and onwards. But as they got older, the difference in the hospitalisation rate for men and women increased even further.
  • Indigenous Australians were more likely to have a hospitalisation hospitalisation from a public hospital than a private hospital (533,000 and 82,300 hospitalisations, respectively).

Emergency department care

In 2021–22, emergency department waiting times differed by where a person lived.

  • Median waiting times were highest for people living in Major cities (21 minutes), and lowest for those living in Outer regional, Remote and Very Remote areas (17 minutes).
  • Patients living in Major cities had the longest median waiting times for Emergency (8 minutes), Urgent (26 minutes), and Semi-urgent (32 minutes) triage categories.

Elective surgery waiting times

In 2020–21, rates of admission and waiting times for admission from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists, differed by remoteness area of usual residence and SES.

  • People living in Remote areas (39.3 per 1,000) had the highest rate of admissions from elective surgery waiting lists, followed by Very remote areas (33.3 per 1,000).
  • Major cities had the lowest rate (23.3 per 1,000 population).
  • The time within which 50% of patients were admitted for their awaited procedure varied by remoteness area of the patient’s usual residence, ranging from 39 days in Remote areas to 56 days in Outer regional areas.
  • The time within which 50% of patients were admitted ranged from 37 days for people living in areas classified as the highest level of socioeconomic disadvantage to 54 days for people living in areas classified as the lowest SES group.
  • Indigenous Australians waited longer to access elective surgery with a median waiting time of 58 days compared to 47 days for other Australians. 

Where do I find more information?

More data on Admitted patient care 2020–21 can be found in tables 3.2 and 6.29–6.32, which is available to explore in the Info and downloads section.

Data on Emergency department care 2020–21 can be found in the Emergency Department care theme page or the data downloads section.

Definitions of the terms used in this section are available in the Glossary.

More information on elective surgery waiting times and procedures can be found in the Elective Surgery theme page which primarily uses the National Elective Surgery Waiting Times Data Collection.

References 

WHO (2006) Quality of care: a process for making strategic choices in health systems. WHO, Paris.