Emergency department

Our emergency departments operate 24 hours a day, providing specialised care to patients with a serious illness or injury.

Emergency departments

The main emergency department in the region is at Cairns Hospital.

Accident and emergency services are also available at other hospitals including:

Deciding to go to an emergency department

Deciding whether to go to an emergency department depends on how serious your injury or illness is.

In an emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

If you’re not sure whether to go to an emergency department call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or see your doctor.

You don’t need to go to an emergency department for things like:

  • removing stitches
  • sprains and strains
  • bites and stings
  • viruses or infections
  • eye injuries
  • prolonged illness or injury.

Your GP will be able to treat you.

Read more about when to go to the emergency department on the Queensland Health website.

What to bring

If you go to emergency, remember to take the following items with you:

  • your Medicare card
  • pension or concession card, if you have one
  • a list of your current medications or the actual medications
  • any relevant x-rays, scans, other test results
  • your GP’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 taxi home if you arrive by ambulance
  • your mobile phone
  • something to read.

What to expect at an emergency department

When you arrive at the emergency department, go straight to the reception counter. You’ll be seen by a nurse who will assess how urgent your condition is.

Patients are treated in order of priority. This means the sickest patients are seen first.

The nurse will also need to know if you:

  • have previous health problems
  • are taking any medications
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • have recently been overseas
  • have housing or social concerns
  • have pain or symptoms that are getting worse
  • need an interpreter
  • need an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health worker
  • identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • if you have a Medicare or DVA card.

They will also need to know how your injury or illness happened. For example, if you were injured at work or had a car accident.

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

  • see a specialist
  • be admitted to 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.

Do you need an interpreter or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Hospital Liaison Officer?

We have a free interpreter service for patients at our emergency departments.

The interpreters we use are fully accredited and can translate complex medical information for you — family or friends are usually not able to translate complex medical information.

If you'd like an interpreter, please let us know as soon as you arrive.

Please ask your nurse or doctor if you would like to talk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Hospital Liaison Officer. If you’re in Cairns Hospital, you can call 07 4226 6361 to arrange an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Hospital Liaison Officer.

Going home

If you’re taken to the emergency department by ambulance, you’ll need to ask someone to pick you up, or take a taxi home. Ambulances are only for emergency situations. They’ll take you to hospital if you’re sick or injured, but they won’t 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 won’t 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’re 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 ask the doctor for a Work Capacity certificate if your injury/illness happened at work
  • take all your belongings with you.

How much will it cost?

Emergency medical treatment is free if you have a Medicare card. You may have to pay for treatment if you haven’t got one.

If your injury or illness happened at work, your employer may be responsible for your health costs.

Read more about health costs, insurance and financial support.

You can access emergency medical care if you come from a country that has a reciprocal health care agreement with Australia. You’ll need to show us your passport or reciprocal health care card.

Last updated:November 2021