​Emergency departments across NSW are currently under significant pressure due to COVID-19 and rise in flu cases

If you are seriously injured, seriously unwell or have a life-threatening medical emergency, call Triple Zero (000) or go to a hospital emergency department immediately. Examples of medical emergencies include sudden collapse, chest pressure or pain lasting more than 10 minutes, breathing difficulty, uncontrollable bleeding or severe mental health concern.

For non-urgent medical advice, speak with your doctor or local pharmacist, call healthdirect for free on 1800 022 222 to speak to a registered nurse or visit www.healthdirect.gov.au.

Severe COVID-19 or flu symptoms

If you develop severe symptoms (particularly severe dizziness, drowsiness or confusion, shortness of breath, chest pressure or pain lasting more than 10 minutes, unable to stand), call Triple Zero (000) straight away and tell the ambulance staff you have tested positive for COVID-19 or flu.

What is an emergency department?

An Emergency Department (ED) is part of a hospital that provides emergency care to people who need urgent medical attention.

Most public hospitals in Australia have an emergency department. They have highly trained doctors, nurses and other health professionals on site to deal with emergencies. They assess, treat, stabilise and start the health management of people who have come to the ED with a serious illness or injury.  

Hospital emergency departments will never turn away people with serious or life-threatening illness or injuries.

Visits to public hospital emergency departments are free for Medicare card holders. You will be charged a fee if you go to an emergency department in a private hospital.

When to go to the emergency department

If you are seriously hurt or sick, you can go to a hospital emergency department for urgent treatment. Emergency departments deal with genuine life-threatening emergencies such as:

  • chest pain or chest tightness lasting more than 10 minutes
  • sudden onset of weakness, numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg
  • breathing difficulties
  • unconsciousness
  • uncontrollable bleeding
  • a sudden collapse or unexplained fall
  • unexplained fitting in adults
  • injury from a major car accident
  • a fall from a great height
  • serious assault, including stabbing or shooting
  • severe burns, particularly in young children
  • infants who are fitting or have an ongoing fever
  • severe mental health concern

In NSW emergency departments, patients are always seen according to the clinical urgency of their condition. During very busy times, like we are experiencing at the moment due to COVID-19 and a rise in flu cases, people with less urgent conditions may have longer wait times. This may be due to  large numbers of seriously unwell patients being prioritised for emergency care.

Find your nearest emergency department

Visit Emergency Department waiting times to locate your nearest emergency department and find out how busy it is. The website will show you in real time, the number of people waiting for treatment.

If you’re not sure what to do

If you are not sure if you should go to a hospital emergency department, please speak to your GP or pharmacist, or call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for free, fast, expert advice. Healthdirect is a 24-hour telephone health advice line staffed by registered nurses.

Healthdirect Symptom Checker

The Healthdirect Symptom Checker is an online tool which can help you understand your symptoms and what action to take next. For example, the tool will tell you if you can safely manage your symptoms at home, or if you should go to your GP, pharmacy or visit the emergency department.

What happens in the emergency department?


The first person you will see in emergency is the triage nurse (pronounced tree-arj). The triage nurse will ask for your name, address and Medicare card. This is important to make sure you receive the treatment you need, and to avoid confusing your healthcare management with anybody else’s.

The triage nurse will assess your condition and decide the priority of your care soon after your arrival. If your condition is very urgent you will be seen by a doctor sooner than if your condition is less urgent. An emergency nurse may even commence your care.

Even if your doctor refers you to emergency, the triage nurse will still have to work out how urgent your condition is. Your local doctor will not be aware of the other patients who are already there or waiting for treatment or the processes that the emergency department follows.

  • If your condition gets worse while you are waiting, tell the triage nurse or other emergency department staff immediately
  • If you would like an alternate option for treatment, the triage nurse can let you know what is available.
  • If you decide not to wait, make sure you tell the triage nurse so that they can discuss the risks of you leaving the ED.

For more information on triage, see Hospital triage.


Severely ill or injured patients are always treated as soon as possible.

If you need more hospital care, the doctor may have you admitted into the hospital. If this happens, you will be taken to a hospital ward when a bed is available. While you are waiting to go to the ward you will still be receiving care by the emergency department.

Alternatively, you may be transferred by ambulance to another hospital that has the range of services that you need for treatment of your condition.

From October to December 2021, there were 763,257 attendances to emergency departments in NSW. Over 173,000 of these were treated and admitted to hospital.

For more information about what you can expect from your time in hospital or if you have any concerns about your treatment, see Patient care, treatment and concerns.

What happens after emergency?

An emergency department clinician will let you know if and when you are ready to go. They will also let you know what is happening with your care or treatment, so don't hesitate to ask questions if you don't understand what's happening.

Before you leave emergency, you may be asked to see your family doctor to make sure everything is okay. If you have had stitches, or a plaster or cast put on, you will be told how long they are to remain in place.

If you are discharged and able to go home, make sure that you:

  • understand your treatment and any medications you need to take – ask questions if you need to
  • know when you need to see a doctor again
  • ask about a medical certificate and/or a letter for your doctor.

For more information see Going home from hospital.​​​

Alternatives to an emergency department

If you have a minor illness or injury that does not need emergency treatment, you can ask for an appointment with your GP during regular hours or visit an after-hours medical centre.

Other options include:

  • contact an after-hours doctor to visit your home
  • see a pharmacist for advice on symptoms and medication
  • call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for free advice from a registered nurse.

Support is also available if you need mental health support and your situation is not urgent. However, if you or someone you are with is in immediate danger, please call Triple Zero (000) or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.


Current as at: Tuesday 24 May 2022
Contact page owner: System Purchasing