Objective: To examine changes in the rate of seeing patients between 1990 and 2004 and to see whether performance might be related to patient age, using data held on the patient administration system.
Method: Data collected in 1990 were compared with those collected in 2004. Age related data were examined for the following parameters: the number of patients arriving by ambulance; the time taken to process the attendance; the number of investigations; the number of emergency admissions; and the length of inpatient stay.
Results: Emergency department (ED) performance has fallen markedly since 1990. Between 1990 and 2004, there was a 54% increase in total patients with a disproportionate 198% increase in patients aged more than 70 years, including a 671% increase in those aged more than 90 years. The time taken to manage patients increased with age. In 2004, there was a marked rise in investigation rates, and the probability of having investigations increased with age. In 2004, older patients (aged more than 70 years) were 4.9 times more likely to require admission to hospital than younger patients (aged 30 years or less). Their average length of stay was 6.9 times longer. Younger patients were 3.3 times more numerous than older patients but older patients occupied 9.8 times more emergency bed days.
Conclusions: Pressure on emergency care is associated with a disproportionate increase in the number of elderly patients and with an increased tendency to investigate them. Population ageing is of central importance in planning health services.
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Competing interests: none declared
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