More using urgent doctors service

While Dunedin Hospital's emergency department struggles to cope with patient numbers, the nearby Dunedin Urgent Doctors and Accident Centre is dealing with thousands more patients annually.

But the centre is not concerned about its situation.

Centre practice manager Belinda Watkins said it would soon be upgrading its building to better cater for the increased numbers and staffing was not a problem.

"I'm turning doctors away at the moment."

Visits by patients to the emergency department in the year ended June 30 were up by about 900 on the previous year at 36,976.

The district health board, concerned about the number of patients showing up with non-urgent conditions, has recently talked of revisiting the controversial idea of having a general practitioner in the hospital to vet patients before they get to the department.

Urgent doctors centre numbers were up by about 2500 for the year to the end of March, with 30,401 patient visits.

Annual numbers have risen by about 6500 since 2004-05.

Mrs Watkins said numbers attending the centre in the evenings had been pretty static, but day-time numbers had grown as a result of increased services.

The centre was running five fracture clinics a week, when six months ago it only ran two, and its X-ray services, which began more than six years ago, were being well used.

Many general practitioners were referring ACC X-rays to the centre and these were free, as were similar hospital services.

Much of the work done at the centre was accident-related.

Mrs Watkins said the figures indicated the centre was quite successfully bridging the gap between primary health care and the emergency department.

If the hospital decided to install a general practitioner as has been suggested, she did not expect there would be a large impact on the centre, unless the service was free. (There has been no suggestion that any such service would be free.)

Recent hospital research showed the largest group attending the emergency department without considering alternatives was aged between 15 and 25, and Mrs Watkins said the centre recognised it needed to target that group in its advertising.

Otago District Health Board chief executive Brian Rousseau said the increased numbers attending the centre did not seem to be related to a higher incidence of accident or illness.

Perhaps some people were choosing to pay extra because they found the service convenient.

The centre is open between 8am and 11.30pm.

An adult patient attending the Dunedin Urgent Doctors and Accident Centre who does not have a community services card and is enrolled with a contributing general practice would pay $70 for a consultation. (A lower rate applies if the consultation involves an accident claim.)

Fees for a similar patient seen by their Primary Health Organisation general practitioner in Dunedin range from about $28 to $37.50.


Dunedin Urgent Doctors and Accident Centre attendances (years ending in March)

2004-05: 23,814

2005-06: 26,322

2006-07: 27,570

2007-08: 30,401

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