ED referrals system starts but GP slots look doubtful

A pilot programme started this week in the Southland Hospital with aim to ease the pressures at the Emergency Department.

However, an Invercargill doctor is unsure how this could effectively work as the primary care in the region was already facing one of the biggest crises he has experienced.

WellSouth and Southern DHB announced this week it was working in a partnership to trial EmergencyQ, a software solution which connects Southland Hospital, He Puna Waiora Wellness Centre and Invercargill Medical Centre.

Launched in 2017, the programme enables patients with less serious problems such as sore throats, ear infections, rashes, and minor strains and sprains to be seen by a primary care service.

It has been used at seven emergency departments and 16 primary care/urgent care providers across the country.

Invercargill Medical Centre practice manager Tracey Smith said the trial of EmergencyQ within the practice had been successful so far.

“The main aim is to help patients in the community get the care they need where we can. Those patients we have seen so far who have taken up the option to come to Invercargill Medical Centre have been so appreciative of the service we are able to provide to them.”

Dr Sier Vermunt
Dr Sier Vermunt
While the programmes hoped to reduce waiting time and make the system more effective, Waihopai Health Services director Dr Sier Vermunt believed the limiting factor in Southland was the huge pressure on the GPs’ clinics across the city.

"EmergencyQ has helped other areas in the past — whether or not it will solve the DHB problem is a different story but ... the choke point here is to actually find GP appointments to send these patients to. In today’s environment this is extremely difficult."

Four years ago, his clinic used to notify on a daily basis the hospital if any time was available.

Back then, the hospital staff had never sent any ED patient to them, he said. Now, he believed the system was in crisis.

There was not enough staff, not enough funding to source staff, and the complexity of medical care was increasing so professionals were spending more time doing a consultation.

The ageing population was among the factors putting even more pressure on the practices, he said.

"It is a good idea, but when you don’t have those appointments available in the primary care, it does not work.

"We are acutely empathetic with the situation with the patients in the region who can’t get any appointment or be enrolled ... We have never been in this situation. In my whole time in this practice, we had have never shut down the books of enrolment but it was so long that we decided to do so as [it] creates false hope to patients."

WellSouth chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs acknowledged practices in Invercargill and elsewhere in Southern were doing all they could to make care available and enrol patients, where that was possible.

"The pressures practices are feeling are not unique and health providers everywhere are reporting challenges."

He was very grateful that general practices in Invercargill were going to extra lengths to help support the initiative.

"Having these acute slots available in general practice to provide support for an acute presentation, differs from enrolling a patient, which requires more clinical and administrative resource.

"EmergencyQ is one of a few initiatives that WellSouth and other providers are working on to help connect people with the healthcare they need."




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