Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit reports decline in emergency department presentations during first month of COVID-19 lockdown

Monash University

Victorian hospitals recorded a decrease in emergency department presentations during March 2020, the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) has found.

New figures released by MUARC’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit (VISU) show there were 151,187 emergency department (ED) presentations during March 2020, down from 158,106 in March 2019.

However, there was a significant increase in ED presentations for respiratory and virus-related illnesses. There were 11,078 presentations related to viral infections during the month, compared to 2,871 in March 2019.

Similarly, there were 3,467 presentations for upper respiratory infections, a marked increase from the 1,053 presentations a year earlier.

Many other illness categories saw a decrease in ED presentations, including potentially life-threatening conditions.

The VISU bulletin also reported slight decreases in the total number of ED presentations for injuries in the key categories of home, farm, transport, self-harm and assault. Given the overall reduction in ED presentations, the number of injuries during lockdown are likely to be underestimated by ED statistics. Proportional to ED caseload, home and transport injuries presented to the ED increased.

The bulletin also states that further research is needed to determine whether non-urgent health issues have been presented to the GP or nurse on call instead of the ED. This needs to be investigated further to identify potential gaps in service utilisation during the pandemic.

VISU extracted the data from the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD), which holds deidentified clinical records of presentations at Victorian public hospitals with designated 24-hour EDs (currently 38 hospitals). ED presentations from 1 March 2019 to 31 March 2020 were analysed.

/Public Release.