Australian government hopes to establish triage by phone

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Australian federal government hopes to slash hospital emergency department waiting queues by setting up a 24-hour national medical hotline.

A government source said that the National Health Call Centre Network would be manned by registered triage nurses 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Triage nurses would perform a diagnosis over the phone based upon the description given by the patient. The patient would then be referred to the nearest emergency department, their local GP or pharmacy – as determined by the nurse.

The issue is expected to be discussed at next month's Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra. It is believed that the states and territories are supportive of the system.

If agreed upon by COAG, the service will be jointly funded by state/territory and the commonwealth governments at a cost of $40 million a year. The service would take 18 months to set up.

The service will be ran from a centralised call centre and be managed by a private contractor.

Julia Gillard, the opposition's spokeswoman for health said any national call service needed to be linked with local GPs and medical services.

Gillard claims that under a Labor government, an after-hours "Pizza Hut" style service would be implemented, with a single national number connecting to a local call centre.

"You would be talking to people in the locality you are in and who know the local services," she said

The Australian Medical Association, an organisation representing more than 27,000 doctors in Australia has slammed the proposal saying it will only deter people from seeking appropriate medical treatment.

Sources

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