Urgent care for the non-urgent cases
A solution to Blenheim’s backedup emergency department, a result of the town’s ongoing doctor drought, is really quite simple – a less serious emergency department next door.
An urgent care centre will open beside the Wairau Hospital emergency department before Christmas to manage patients with minor complaints who cannot see a GP.
The move comes after years of telling people to stop using the department for flus, sprains and broken digits, a campaign that even saw billboards at the door urging patients to reconsider.
Marlborough Primary Health Organisation chief executive Beth Tester said about 40 per cent of people turning up at the emergency department could be treated by GPs. People had largely listened to the hospital’s call to save the department for emergencies, but many people simply had nowhere else to go, Tester said.
Some struggled to get same-day appointments with their GP or even to get enrolled at all.
‘‘Presentations [at ED] have actually been dropping since the campaign started,’’ Tester said.
‘‘But if we can deal with them in primary care, we should. It allows ED staff the ability to deal with the more complex cases, to focus on the people that actually need their specialist skills.’’
The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board expected demand to grow in the next 20 years as the population aged and grew – enough to fill a third hospital in the top of the south if the funds existed.
High tourism and seasonal worker numbers in the summer also led to more presentations at the emergency department, so it was important the clinic, in the old Churchill Hospital children’s ward, opened in December, Tester said. ‘‘We need to cater to their healthcare needs as well.’’
There were about 2800 workers in the region under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme who were not enrolled with a GP because they were not permanent residents.
Tester was speaking with the Ministry for Primary Industries about funding visits for RSE workers, as their health insurance only covered acute events, but they often needed treatment for health complaints such as the flu.
‘‘It is planned that the urgent care centre becomes the health home for this group.’’
Patients would be charged a similar amount to rates at the after-hours clinic, which would combine with the urgent care clinic when it opened, vacating its current building.
Residents were charged $75 for treatment at the after-hours clinic. Overseas visitors and people not registered with a GP in the region paid more, while ACC-covered injuries, children and Community Services cardholders paid less.
The PHO was still advertising for doctors, nurses and administration staff, though several people from outside the region had registered interest, Tester said.
She was yet to learn the cost of leasing the ward from the board, but the board usually charged ‘‘very reasonable’’ rates, she said.
The clinic was first floated to join other services at phase two of the health hub in central Blenheim. Instead the board agreed to house the clinic next door to the emergency department, and would pay to get the rooms ready before Christmas, when an influx of visitors tested the hospital’s resources. The PHO would use annual funding from the board for operating costs.