Sending non-urgent triple zero callers to GPs,chemists a Band-Aid response:Experts

Peak medical bodies warn a plan to send non-urgent triple zero callers to GPs and chemists is a Band-Aid response to the crisis facing NSW ambulances,with urgent action needed to ease pressure across the health system.

NSW Ambulance said this week it was reviewing an “alternate transport option” thatwould deliver non-emergency patients who call triple zero to healthcare services such as pharmacies and general practitioners.

NSW Ambulance said it was reviewing an “alternate transport option” that would deliver non-emergency patients who call triple zero to healthcare services such as pharmacies.

NSW Ambulance said it was reviewing an “alternate transport option” that would deliver non-emergency patients who call triple zero to healthcare services such as pharmacies.Michelle Smith

But Australian Medical Association NSW branch president Michael Bonning said the proposal was a “short-term solution” that failed to address the underlying issues that cause ambulances to be ramped outside hospitals waiting hours to transfer seriously ill patients.

“We need to support our GPs to handle the significant backlog of delayed care from the pandemic,” he said. “The impact of delayed care means patients are presenting in worse condition,experiencing increased physical pain,and facing poorer mental health. Alternate transport options must include clarification about the clinician triage and ensure that this is well-defined and reviewed,” Bonning said.

NSW Ambulance Assistant Commissioner Clare Beech told 2GB radio on Friday it was “no secret” paramedics were working incredibly hard.

“This notion of taxis … this is not a new concept it’s used in a lot of ambulance services around the country and world,” she said. “These are not patients that need an emergency ambulance. These patients might not be able to get themselves down to a chemist to fill a script … or to a GP. We think it’s a very sensible model.”

State premiers have been calling on the Commonwealth for $20.5 billion in funding for public hospitals to tackle the pressure on health systems exacerbated by the pandemic.

Pharmacy Guild NSW branch president David Heffernan said the limited opening hours of most pharmacies and general practices in NSW could cause problems when trying to re-direct some non-urgent triple zero callers.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Karen Price welcomed suggestions to deal with the huge pressure on the health system but cautioned against directing some triple zero non-urgent patients to general practices because most are already grappling with serious workforce shortages.

“It does risk adding more pressure to overloaded general practices that have serious staff shortages and are dealing with huge numbers of patients with increasingly complex conditions,” Price said. “We should be wary of flicking patients to general practices that are already under pressure. We need whole of system reform,cooperation between states,territories and the Commonwealth”.

She saidtrialling Labor’s urgent care clinics could be part of a longer-term the solution to help ease crowded hospital emergency rooms.

“Separate acute care clinics attached to general practice[or hospitals] could be a model that works. GPs are frequently booked out and would find it difficult to fit in more and more patients,but we know when primary care works and is properly funded it helps keep people out of emergency departments”.

AMA vice-president Chris Moy said patients “should not be thrown around like footballs,” but alternative ways to ensure patients get the care they need was critical,and at times using taxis or other transport models to take patients to hospitals had worked.

“GPs aren’t sitting there waiting for patients to show up. They are booked up. If a proposal like this is brought in it needs to be done in partnership which details which practices are willing and able to do this. Most importantly there needs to be adequate support from hospitals”.

Opposition health spokesman Ryan Park said measures to reduce the ramping crisis in NSW were worth considering,but a shortage of GPs means unless there is a plan to increase the general practice workforce the plan to re-direct some triple zero callers “won’t work”.

“The proposal doesn’t eliminate the fact we need to see significant investment in more paramedics in the budget as well as funding to expand very busy emergency departments,” Park said.

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Lucy Carroll is education editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a health reporter.

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