DEMANDS on emergency staff will be relieved under a Ballarat Health Services plan to reduce the number of non-emergency patients waiting in the Base Hospital waiting room.
Ballarat Health Services has introduced a “Find a GP” help desk for non-emergency patients, while a waiting room nurse will provide care for patients waiting for treatment.
The demand on the hospital’s emergency department has soared, hitting a peak of 53,000 attendances in 2011-12, due to a shortage of available general practitioners in the region.
Grampians Medicare Local chief executive officer Andrew McPherson said the shortage was now over, with 17 practices in Ballarat taking new patients.
“In most emergency departments there are a lot of people present who could or should be visiting a GP. There is now capacity in Ballarat for them to be able to do that and that will, in turn, prevent cluttering up the emergency department,” Mr McPherson said.
“There is a mindset among people of going straight to emergency because people couldn’t get in to see a GP. That is no longer true. There are bulk bill clinics in Ballarat and there are more available now.
“There is also the option of going to see a GP with co-payment rather than waiting for a long time in emergency while more acute cases are taken care of. No one likes to sit for a long time in an emergency department.”
The “helpdesk” is a colour terminal which lists available GPs in the city that are open and accepting appointments, and can make a free phone call for a taxi from the Base Hospital to open clinics.
The service also offers an after-hours helpline through Grampians Medicare, between 6pm and 8am, for triage and assistance by a GP over the phone. Emergency cases can then be booked in.
Ballarat Health Services chief executive officer Andrew Rowe said the service would allow the emergency department to concentrate resources on treating very sick patients.
“The least acute (health) categories constitute 25 per cent of patients seen by emergency. A significant proportion can be capably seen by GPs,” he said.
“Historically, the problem has been a shortage of GPs so people have got into the habit of going to emergency but the clinics have recruited very well.”
The waiting room nurse, who will be on duty between 10am and 6.30pm, will further streamline the triage process by administering pain killers when necessary and taking blood tests and other samples while patients wait to be seen by triage staff.
Team leader Debra Curran said the system had worked well at the Royal Children’s Hospital and St Vincents in Melbourne.
“The patients are still in the waiting room but at least we can make a start,” Ms Curran said.
“It is also about improving communication.”