Impact of COVID–19 on hospital care

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an ongoing impact on emergency department, admitted patient and elective surgery activity since its emergence in Australia at the start of 2020.

Impacts of COVID-19 on emergency department activity

Emergency department activity in 2019–20, 2020–21 and 2021–22 was influenced by COVID-19 restrictions and the changes affecting health care provision commencing in February 2020. Also, during 2020–21, some jurisdictions operated COVID-19 fever clinics within emergency departments. Comparatively large increases in ED activity observed between 2019–20 and 2020–21 in some jurisdictions may be driven, in part, by this additional activity.

Compared with 2018–19, in 2019–20 the number of ED presentations decreased by 1.4% – in contrast to the 4.2% increase seen between 2017–18 and 2018–19. In the following year (2020–21) the number of presentations increased by 6.9% – from 8.23 million in 2019–20 to 8.81 million in 2020–21. In 2021–22, the number of presentations decreased by 0.2% to 8.79 million compared with the previous year. ED presentations between 2021–22 and 2022–23, remained relatively stable, increasing by 0.1% overall.

More information on the impacts of COVID on emergency department activity in 2019–20 to 2022–23 is available at Emergency department care activity.

Impact of COVID-19 on admitted patient activity

Australia’s hospital system has played a significant role in managing and treating people with the coronavirus virus (COVID-19). Between January 2020 and June in 2021, there were over 270,700 hospitalisations involving a COVID-19 diagnosis (2,600 in 2019–20, 4,700 in 2020–21 and 263,400 in 2021–22).

Between 2019–20 and 2020–21, the number of hospitalisations increased by 6.3%, compared to a 2.8% decrease between 2018–19 and 2019–20. The increase in hospitalisations was greatest for private hospitals (10.5%), which undertake a high proportion of elective surgeries, compared to public hospitals (3.6%).

In 2021–22, the number of hospitalisations decreased by 2.1% to 11.6 million. The decrease occurred in both public and private hospitals (1.9% and 2.3% respectively).

More information about the impact of COVID-19 on hospital activity and hospitalisations involving COVID-19 can be found here Admitted patient activity.

Impact of COVID-19 on elective surgery activity

As a result of the restrictions on elective surgery introduced in early 2020, overall, there was an 8.3% decrease in elective admissions involving surgery in public hospitals and a 5.7% decrease in private hospitals between 2018–19 and 2019–20.

In addition, there was a 9.2% decrease in admissions from elective surgery waiting lists between 2018–19 and 2019–20.

Delays to elective surgery resulted in a subsequent increase in waiting times for most intended procedures between 2019–20 and 2020–21. The greatest increases in median waiting times occurred for Tonsillectomy (123 day increase over 2019–20), Varicose vein treatment (94 day increase over 2019–20) and Total knee replacement (85 day increase over 2019–20).

The proportion of patients waiting more than 365 days for their elective surgery also increased between 2019–20 and 2020–21 from 2.8% to 7.6% with the greatest increase for Total knee replacement (11% to 32%) and Septoplasty (18% to 36%).

Although, the median waiting times increased in 2022–23, it has decreased for Cataract extraction (25 days) – from 158 days in 2021–22 to 133 days in 2022–23.

More information about the impact of COVID-19 on public hospital elective surgery activity is available at Elective surgery activity.

More information about the data

Emergency department care activity

Admitted patient activity

Elective surgery activity