In hospital emergency departments, triage is done by a specialised triage nurse as soon as possible after a patient arrives. Patients are allocated a triage category based on the time in which they need medical attention.

Most NSW public hospitals use a triage scale for patients presenting to emergency and  aim to achieve certain levels of performance with respect to the amount of time patients wait to be seen.

The five triage categories

Triage category 1

People who need to have treatment immediately or within two minutes are categorised as having an immediately life-threatening condition.

People in this category are critically ill and require immediate attention. Most would have arrived in emergency department by ambulance. They would probably be suffering from a critical injury or cardiac arrest.

Triage category 2

People who need to have treatment within 10 minutes are categorised as having an imminently life-threatening condition.

People in this category are suffering from a critical illness or in very severe pain. People with serious chest pains, difficulty in breathing or severe fractures are included in this category.

Triage category 3

People who need to have treatment within 30 minutes are categorised as having a potentially life-threatening condition.

People in this category are suffering from severe illness, bleeding heavily from cuts, have major fractures or are severely dehydrated.

Triage category 4

People who need to have treatment within one hour are categorised as having a potentially serious condition.

People in this category have less severe symptoms or injuries, such as a foreign body in the eye, sprained ankle, migraine or earache.

Triage category 5

People who need to have treatment within two hours are categorised as having a less urgent condition.

People in this category have minor illnesses or symptoms that may have been present for more than a week, such as rashes or minor aches and pains.

What to ask and tell the triage nurse

Can I eat or drink anything?

Ask if you can eat or drink. Sometimes you need to not eat or drink anything while you are waiting to see a doctor because you may need to have a test or an operation which requires your stomach to be empty.

Can I get some pain relief?

Tell the triage nurse if you are in pain while waiting or if you feel your condition is getting worse.

What medications you take

Let the triage nurse know what medications you are on, when you need to take them and when you last took them.

Can I contact anyone?

Ask the triage nurse if you should contact family, relatives or friends to let them know you are in emergency.

Can I have an interpreter?

If English is not your first language and you are having difficulty understanding the triage nurse, you can request a health care interpreter. For more information, see Health care interpreting and translating services.​

Page Updated: Tuesday 24 October 2017
Page Owner: System Purchasing