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Emergency departments

Most Queensland public hospitals have an emergency department open 24 hours. You don’t need an appointment—patients are treated in order of priority.

Emergency departments are busy places, and patients are treated according to how serious their condition is. Emergencies and severe illnesses will take priority over more minor complaints.

To avoid delays and help keep the number of patients down in emergency departments, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or visit a general practitioner or after hours medical centre for minor illnesses.

Search the health services directory to find your nearest health service.

Deciding to go to an emergency department

Deciding whether to go to an emergency department depends on the severity of your injury or illness.

In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Once the paramedics arrive they will decide on your care. This may include taking you to the nearest emergency department or treating you at the scene. You may be asked to see your general practitioner for any follow-up treatment.

If it’s not an emergency, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84). Qualified staff are available 24 hours a day. They will advise you on what to do and if you need to go to a GP, pharmacy or emergency department.

GPs can treat many conditions you might otherwise go to an emergency department for, such as removing stitches, sprains and strains, bites and stings, viruses or infections, eye injuries, and prolonged illness or injury.

Pharmacies can help with conditions such as cold and flu symptoms, skin conditions and irritations, minor or mild allergy symptoms, headaches, diarrhoea or constipation, or sleeping problems.

You can call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or search the health services directory to find your nearest service.

Read more about after-hours health services and how to find them.

If you go to emergency, remember:

  • your Medicare card
  • pension or concession card if you have one
  • a list of current medications or the actual medications
  • any relevant x-rays, scans, other test results
  • your general practitioner’s address and phone number
  • food, bottles, nappies, extra clothing and a toy for babies and children
  • money for phone calls, vending machines or a cab home if you are travelling in by ambulance
  • your mobile phone
  • a book or magazine.

Triage – how we assess emergency patients

Emergency departments work on a triage system. This means that when you arrive, a medical assessment is carried out to see how ill you are. You will be given a rating from 1 to 5.

  • Rating 1: immediately life threatening patients: critical injury or cardiac arrest.
  • Rating 2: imminently life threatening patients: critical illness, very severe pain, have serious chest pains, difficulty in breathing or severe fractures.
  • Rating 3: potentially life threatened patients: severe illness, bleeding heavily from cuts, have major fractures, dehydrated.
  • Rating 4: potentially serious patients: less severe symptoms or injuries, such as foreign body in the eye, sprained ankle, migraine or ear ache.
  • Rating 5: less urgent patients: minor illnesses or symptoms, rashes, minor aches and pains.

What to expect at an emergency department

You will be asked for your name, contact details and Medicare card. Your medical condition will then be assessed. This may include tests such as X-rays or blood tests. You will either be taken to a treatment room straight away, or asked to go to the waiting room.

Tell the nurse:

  • if your general practitioner told you to attend the emergency department
  • any medications you are taking, why and when you need to take them.
  • any allergies you have
  • if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • if you have recently been overseas.

What happens after your consultation will vary depending on your medical condition. You may need to:

  • see a specialist
  • be admitted to the hospital
  • be observed for a while longer by medical staff
  • get treatment such as a plaster cast or stitches
  • get a prescription for medication
  • be transferred to another hospital for specialist treatment.

While you may get frustrated waiting longer than another patient, remember that emergency departments are very busy places and staff do their best to see you as quickly as possible. Even if the waiting room does not appear to be busy, medical staff may be treating patients brought in by ambulance or those with urgent medical needs.

Many hospitals have patient support services to help you. If you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, are hearing impaired or need an interpreter, please let the staff know if you would like assistance. Chaplaincy and counselling services are also available.

Going home

If you are taken to the emergency department by ambulance, you will need ask someone to pick you up, or take a taxi home. Ambulances are only for emergency situations. While they will transport you to hospital if you are sick or injured, they cannot take you home again.

If you decide to leave before being treated, either because you feel better or want to see your GP instead, you can go at any time. However, the hospital cannot be held responsible if you become sicker or develop another health problem. Make sure you tell the emergency department receptionist or triage nurse that you are leaving.

Before you leave the emergency department make sure you:

  • understand the treatment you were given and what care you require
  • know what medicines you need to take and why
  • know when you need to see a doctor again and who to see (your general practitioner, the specialist or outpatient clinic)
  • ask if you need a medical certificate, a letter for your general practitioner or Work Cover
  • take all your belongings with you.

Cost of emergency treatment

Emergency medical treatment is provided free to Medicare card holders at Queensland Health hospitals. You may have to pay for services if you do not hold a Medicare card.

Find out more about the cost to access public health services.

You will pay for services if you attend a private hospital emergency department, even if you hold a Medicare card.

If you are a visitor from a country that has a Reciprocal Health Agreement with Australia, you can access emergency medical care free of charge once you show your passport or reciprocal health care card.

Not sure where to go?

Other services

  • Alcohol & Drug Information Service: 07 3236 2414
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Poisons Information Centre: 13 11 26
  • Statewide Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120
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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated
5 November 2015

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