Our say | There’s a good reason it’s called emergency

THE staff at Bathurst Base Hospital’s emergency department are usually kept pretty busy, so there’s no need for us to find more work for them.

But that seems to be exactly what’s happening as we contnue to see hundreds of patients visiting the ED for health problems that might better be handled by a general practitioner.

That’s one of the key findings from the latest Bureau of Health Information quarterly report that looked at hospital admissions between January and March this year.

The report found that of the 6096 patients who visited emergency in that three-month period, more than 10 per cent – 642 – would have been better off going to their GP.

All patients who attend the ED are triaged from Category 1 for the most serious and life-threatening cases through to Triage 5 for the least serious cases – that is, those cases that really don’y need to be in emergency in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, that’s the message hospital general manager Sue Patterson wants to get out in the community as every low-level case that’s kept out of the ED frees up staff to devote greater care to more serious cases.

“The emergency department is for emergencies … [this] can overcrowd the department with less acute patients,” Ms Patterson said.

The other side of this story, though, is the question of why people are preferring a trip to the ED over a trip to the GP.

By definition, time is not the deciding factor. In the case of an emergency there is no question that hospital is the place to be.

Instead, we have to assume people don’t believe they will be able to get an appointment with the GP of their choice, or maybe they are worried about the out-of-pocket cost of a GP visit.

Which brings us to the other message the hospital wants to get out there: That the After Hours GP Clinic and hotline are also there help to reduce unnecessary visits to the ED.

The hotline number, 6333 2888, puts people in touch with a GP from 6pm to 8am Monday to Friday, then from noon on Saturday and all day Sunday and public holidays.

The After Hours GP clinic operates out of the heritage building at Bathurst Hospital from 3pm-7pm on the weekend and public holidays, excluding Christmas Day and Good Friday.

It’s a number worth keeping on your fridge – you will be helping yourself and helping free up the emergency department for true emergencies.