23 February 2023

SA GPs invited to sign up for urgent care clinics (updated)

Hospital Medicare Political

South Australian health professionals considering establishing an urgent care clinic will be able to register their interest from Friday (24 February), federal Health Minister Mark Butler announced yesterday.

UCCs are set to be established in Adelaide city, Mount Gambier, outer northern Adelaide metro, outer southern Adelaide metro and southern Adelaide metro areas.

The expression of interest process will be led by the Adelaide and Country SA PHNs, with submissions accepted until 24 March 2023. Existing general practices, community health centres and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are eligible to apply.

But while seven UCC locations have been announced for WA and three for Tasmania, in addition to the five SA locations, the Albanese government has so far refused to say where all 50 clinics promised before the election will be based.

The locations were identified at the time of the election and finalised on 1 February 2023, Tania Rishniw, health department deputy secretary for primary and community care told a Senate Estimates hearing last week.

Mr Butler did offer some clarity about when the clinics would likely be operational.

“We’re determined to see the 50 services delivered this year, in 2023,” he told reporters in Adelaide. “For example, we’ve put out EOIs in two tranches in Western Australia for three of those services in that state to open this side of June 30, and additional services in the second half of the year.

“It ultimately will depend, in part, on the ability of the successful applicants to stand up their service quickly,” he said. “But we’ll be making it clear that, whatever is the case, we expect these services to be delivered in 2023.”

In Western Australia, the WA Primary Health Alliance PHN began accepting EOIs for clinics on February 10 and will close the EOI period today, Thursday 23 February, at 12 noon.

The seven UCCs are set to be established in Perth city and surrounding suburbs, Joondalup and surrounding suburbs, Rockingham and surrounding suburbs, Midland, Murdoch, Bunbury and Broome. The PHN is taking a phased approach, beginning with Morley, Clarkson and Rockingham and their respective surrounding suburbs.

The new clinics will be located in existing facilities, such as general practices and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

In Tasmania, the federal government accepted EOIs, via Tasmania’s health department, between 24 December 2022 and 1 February 2023. One UCC has been flagged for the corridor along the north-east Tamar, the Southern region of Tasmania (Glenorchy) and the north-west region (Devonport and Latrobe). The government hopes the three clinics will be operational by 1 July 2023.

The 50 UCCs have been positioned as a way to take pressure off hospital emergency departments by offering a bulk-billing service, staffed for extended hours, to provide non-life-threatening care.

However, doctor groups have repeatedly criticised the plan, saying it doesn’t reflect coherent policy.

Cost is an additional concern, with the Tasmanian EOI documents indicating significant capital investment would be required to establish a UCC. According to the Tasmanian guidance on activity, infrastructure and staffing, each clinic will need to:

  • be open for extended hours, seven days a week, at least 8am to 8pm Monday to Sunday and on public holidays
  • have an X-ray facility on site or easily accessible across all hours of operation
  • have timely access to ultrasound and CT across the majority of hours of operation
  • have timely access to laboratory-based pathology
  • include a designated area for ambulances to stop and obtain ready access to the UCC
  • be equipped with appropriate equipment and medications for diagnosis and treatment

New South Wales and Victoria both plan to roll out 25 state-based UCCs of their own in addition to any federal clinics in those states.

UPDATE: Queensland PHNs are also now accepting expressions of interest (EOIs) from existing general practices, community health centres and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. The EOI period closes on 24 March 2023. 

Medicare UCCs will be established in Bundaberg, Ipswich, Rockhampton, Cairns, Southern Brisbane, Northern Brisbane, Gold Coast, Redcliffe, Logan, Townsville and Toowoomba.

In a statement to TMR, the Department of Health said it aims to open “as many of the clinics [nationwide] as possible” by 1 July 2023.

“All clinics are expected to be open by the end of 2023,” the statement said. “Timing will depend on responses to EOIs and collaboration with jurisdictions.”

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