New GP-led clinics to reduce hospital load

Five new GP-led primary care centres will be established in Victoria to treat those who don’t need an emergency response to ease the overwhelming burden on emergency departments.

The new centres, which are slated to care for up to 300 patients per site per week, will open in September and operate seven days a week across 16-hour days.

Emergency departments are busier than ever in Victoria. Hospitals including Box Hill are using tents as overflow areas.Credit:Scott McNaughton

The state government has committed $14.3 million to the new initiative, which will treat patients suffering from mild infections, fractures or burns with pathology and imaging services onsite.

The centres will be established near Royal Melbourne Hospital, Northern Hospital Epping, Sunshine Hospital, Monash Medical Centre Clayton and Grampians Health Ballarat.

Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday the clinics would help combat the “very significant pressure” the state’s health system is under and the shortage in affordable GPs.

“If you can’t find a bulk billing doctor, then the only place to go is to the hospital emergency department, and that’s not always the most appropriate place to be,” he said at a press conference in Footscray.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas announced the new primary care centres on Sunday.Credit:Wayne Taylor

“Giving people choice and giving people options, that’s really important for better health outcomes.

“The money that we’re investing, it’s a relatively modest amount – that will be for fit-out and for some expansion but also the after-hours component – essentially subsidising those centres to be open longer, seeing more patients, providing them with the most appropriate care.”

The five new clinics will accept walk-ins, referrals and pre-booked appointments.

Presentations to Victorian emergency departments have increased by 5.1 per cent since the last quarter. A record 486,701 people sought acute care in the past three-month period.

In response to the state’s hospital crisis, the Victorian Liberals have promised to convert up to 250 beds at the Mickleham quarantine centre into beds for non-acute patients if elected in November.

The Mickleham quarantine centre opened in February this year and has cost Victorian taxpayers more than $1.5 million to run each week, according to documents released under freedom of information last month.

“This idea is about freeing up beds for the sickest, beds for people who come to hospital on an ambulance and ramp because there are no beds to go into,” Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said on Sunday.

Guy said the projected cost for staffing the facility would be $35 million in the first year, with financial support needed from the federal government. The quarantine hub is currently staffed with federal employees, including members of the Australian Defence Force.

The Mickleham quarantine centre opened in February but is hardly used.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Andrews said the state government had been exploring other uses for the Mickleham facility, such as creating beds linked to the NDIS, but the consensus from doctors was that the space was “not clinically safe”.

“It’s not a hospital. It’s a quarantine centre. It’s specifically built to keep people apart, not to have people together,” he said.

“If you’re well enough to leave a hospital bed to go to Mickleham, then you’re well enough to go home.”

Andrews said the quarantine centre could have other future uses, such as accommodation for displaced Victorians during bushfires or a large refugee intake.

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