Urgent care centre study still not public, despite critical pressure on Tasmanian hospitals

A study into whether urgent care centres could reduce pressure on overstretched emergency departments in Tasmania has failed to see the light of day — two years after it was promised.

The study was promised as a first-year agenda item when the Liberal Government was re-elected in 2018 under former health minister Michael Ferguson.

Labor’s shadow health minister, Sarah Lovell, said the feasibility study had been completed but was yet to be released.

“What we do know is that there was $240,000 given to an external consultant to conduct that feasibility study,” Ms Lovell said.

“According to the Department of Health annual report, the study was completed in 2018 and yet nobody outside of government has seen it since.”

The Launceston General Hospital emergency department continues to operate under extreme pressure, prompting registrars in the department to write to hospital management last month to say they could “no longer remain silent”.

Patients have also shared their experiences of the overloaded system, saying the emergency department felt like it was “on the brink”.

The urgent care centre model is used in other jurisdictions to reduce demand on emergency departments by directing non-life threatening emergencies to a centre run by general practitioners, with specialist support.

Tim Jackson, Tasmanian chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), said urgent care centres could fill the gap between general practice clinics and hospitals.

The RACGP supports the idea of urgent care centres, which Dr Jackson says could prevent unnecessary hospitalisations, provided the model is implemented with consultation.

“There hasn’t been any consultation with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners as yet,” he said.

“We would hope to be involved in that.”

Private medical centre steps in to fill gap

Meanwhile, a private medical centre in Launceston has stepped in to fill the gap.

Newstead Medical Centre is building an eight-bay urgent care centre nearby, which partner at the practice Dr Toby Gardener says is due to open in mid-January next year.

“It’ll be essentially like a small emergency department with a central nursing area where we can admit patients … do bloods, radiology, treat them as needed with fluids, IV antibiotics, fractures and so forth,” said Dr Gardener, senior lecturer in emergency medicine at the University of Tasmania.

“[We] then send them home and avoid the need [for them] to present to the emergency department.”

Dr Gardener said he hoped to be able to work more collaboratively with the State Government to provide a more holistic treatment approach for patients.

The urgent care centre is being funded privately and through federal Medicare funding.

“With funding from the State Government, it would make it much more affordable for people to be seen in a private-emergency-type set-up. It would reduce the gap they have to pay,” he said.

“I think that would really help take away pressure from the emergency department. Particularly for the elderly and those … from nursing homes who tend to spend a lot of time in emergency departments because of the complexities of their conditions.”

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