Patricia Karvelas brought together a panel of experts to discuss the challenges facing Australia’s health sector, particularly in underserved rural areas of the country, and the opportunities that exist to address the lack of access to medical care, ramping, and treatment delays.
“I hear from my colleagues and our members around the country of waits of multiple hours, even once they’ve seen to a patient’” Mr Lovett said. “Somebody’s called 000 for an ambulance and the ambulance has got there, which is great because sometimes that’s the first challenge. They appreciate that they may need further investigation in a hospital, they may need to consult with an emergency physician, and they take them to the hospital, where unfortunately again there are multiple hour waits before they can get in the doors of the emergency department.”
He said ramping was the result of multiple factors, but that it was essentially a symptom of a hospital problem.
“Generally emergency departments run pretty well. They’re used to seeing high numbers of people with emergency and unknown conditions, but it’s then what happens after the emergency department. It’s about good planning for movement into the hospital and in-patient wards, through those wards and then discharge, but discharge into good community support. Hospitals are reluctant to discharge patients when they know there’s no ongoing care and community support. It’s this loop of issues where you’ve got this lack of primary care at the front end, but you’ve also got this lack of primary care and allied health at the back end to support those people as they move through the health system.”
He said paramedics were ideally placed to help address the challenges, particularly in relation to the national workforce shortage.
“The bread and butter of paramedics is emergency, unscheduled care. That’s what we educate ourselves for, that’s what we do every day of the week, but there is a surplus of workforce paramedics in Australia. We graduate every year more paramedics than gain employment in Australia and we lose them overseas. If we talk about workforce shortages in doctors and nurses, and it’s true, and we need a long-term solution to address that. What we’re saying in the meantime is that you’ve got this untapped resource of health workers, of registered health professionals, who can help fill that gap.”
He said Labor’s election pledge to pilot 50 Urgent Care Centres was one such opportunity to capitalise on paramedics’ unique and varied skills to ensure better public health access and coverage.
“From a paramedic’s perspective, we go and see a patient and there’s a limited number of things we can do in a patient’s home and in the back of an ambulance. There’s diagnostics we can’t do, there’s assessments we can’t do - just because of the environment, not because of the lack of skill or education, but just [because] it’s somebody’s house. Sometimes just a small number of interventions or a small number of diagnostics are required for that patient. They don’t need the full bells and whistles of an emergency department. We save those emergency departments for people who are critically unwell and need resuscitation that that kind of environment provides.
“Urgent Care is that middle ground between general practice, which we know has challenges with availability, especially after hours, and a full-on emergency department.”
You can listen to the full interview in the player above.