Many local emergency departments are under significant pressure. This means it can take hours for people to get the help they need – especially for non-life-threatening conditions like some broken bones, wounds, minor burns, scrapes and other illnesses.
In 2020-21, 47 percent of presentations to emergency departments – just over 4 million visits across Australia – were classified as either semi-urgent or non-urgent. This means they could have been addressed by doctors and nurses outside a hospital.
Emergency departments need to be able to focus on serious and life-threatening emergencies. And others needing care should have more bulk billed options outside the hospital system.
Families need more options for accessing affordable care, at short notice. Too often, GP appointments are not available, and the hospital is the only option. Particularly outside ordinary business hours.
By taking pressure off hospital emergency departments, Medicare Urgent Care Clinics will also alleviate pressures on overworked staff and save the hospital system precious resources.
Labor will deliver at least 50 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics across Australia, as part of a trial of a new model of care.
The Medicare Urgent Care Clinics will bulk bill – ensuring that patients do not have out-of-pocket costs. They will be located in the same general areas as hospital emergency departments.
Urgent Care Clinics have been successful in countries like Australia. In particular, New Zealand, where 2.5 million consultations per year take place in Urgent Care Clinics. The New Zealand experience shows Urgent Care Clinics can work for families and take the pressure off emergency departments. The Royal New Zealand College of Urgent Care states:
“...cities with urgent care clinics have significantly lower emergency department attendance. New Zealand is the first country in which urgent care was recognised as a branch, and it has the lowest rate of emergency department attendance per capita in the developed world.”
Labor’s Medicare Urgent Care Clinics will be based in existing GP clinics and Community Health Centres and provide bulk billed services delivered by doctors and nurses. This includes treating sprains and broken bones, stitches and glue for cuts, wound care, insect bites, minor ear and eye problems, and minor burns. All important and time-critical treatments that don’t need a hospital emergency department.
Medicare Urgent Care Clinics will be open during extended business hours – at least 8am to 10pm – seven days a week. No appointment will be needed. All patients will need is their Medicare card.
Each Medicare Urgent Care Clinic will be different, responding to the needs of the local community. The size of each clinic will depend on local needs. This model of care will work by providing a block grant to existing GP-led clinics in order to ensure they can open longer, and increase the number of doctors, nurses and allied health staff. One-off grants will also be provided to improve equipment and facilities, like x-ray machines.
Labor will work with State and Territory Governments and other stakeholders to ensure that appropriate protocols are in place to ensure close local co-operation between the Medicare Urgent Care Centres, local emergency departments, and the ambulance services.
Medicare Urgent Care Clinics will be located across Australia – in every State and Territory.
Labor will invest over $135 million in Medicare Urgent Care Centres over four years.