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Emergency Departments

27 May 2021

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (15:14): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Health and Wellbeing questions on emergency departments.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: The Treasurer, in speaking about the ambulance employees enterprise bargaining, referred to how we keep people who should not be in EDs out of EDs. The Treasurer mentioned mental health facilities in the city to provide crisis relief. These statements touch upon concerns I have with efficiencies relating to ED arrangements and use of ambulances. There is a need for out of hours facilities to address medical episodes requiring prompt treatment but not EDs. There is also a need to avoid using ambulances for people unable to sit for extended periods in EDs.

My questions to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing are:

1. What plans are there to develop and provide facilities for the frail aged and others with limited capacity to sit awaiting admission at EDs without calling an ambulance to attend EDs?

2. What arrangements are being considered to ameliorate demand on EDs that would be less expensive and lead to more effective outcomes for patients, such as alternative adequate public facilities that are out of hours or can be accessed when the GP is unavailable on short notice?

3. If such alternatives are available, what has been their promotion and publicity in the community?

4. What is the availability of phone-in advisory services at public hospitals additional to commonwealth Healthdirect to assist carers and others to determine the necessity for hospital admissions?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:16): I thank the honourable member for his insightful question. I agree with him that a key element of easing pressure on emergency departments is to make sure that South Australians can get the care they need in the most appropriate location. Often South Australians don't need an emergency department with the full gamut of services at a quaternary hospital like the Royal Adelaide, for example.

The honourable member asks what services are already in place that would support, for example, a frail aged person receiving care in the community. One such example is the priority care centres established by this government. There are four of them located across metropolitan Adelaide, and as I mentioned to the house before they are supported by GPs and an emergency care nurse. They often have related diagnostic and treatment facilities, such as imaging, nearby or on site.

In terms of less expensive options for after hours, that significantly does relate to the way the federal government supports GPs. I certainly have had concerns raised with me recently by constituents about the capacity to get a GP after hours. As I am advised, there are some after-hours GP services available, but the issue of whether or not more support needs to be given to GPs to deliver those services would be a matter for the commonwealth government.

The honourable member raises the point of the potential for phone-in services. The honourable member mentioned the Healthdirect service, which is a jointly funded operation between the states and territories and the commonwealth. Certainly, there are exciting opportunities that can be explored through telehealth, moving forward, particularly in linking country-based GPs with metropolitan-based clinicians or, for that matter, clinicians in other regions, particularly in terms of non-GP specialists providing support to GP specialists.

Whilst we as a state government greatly welcome the extension of the telehealth arrangements within the COVID-19 pandemic, we would be very keen for that to become an enduring element of the Australian healthcare network. I know that the Hon. Greg Hunt, the federal Minister for Health, is keen to explore those opportunities too.