Northern Territory residents who need to see a doctor but can’t meet their normal GP in an appropriate timeframe can now access a virtual GP service after hours.
The expansion of the existing nurse triage service, the healthdirect helpline, aims to improve access to timely healthcare, including when a regular GP is unavailable or GP clinics are closed.
Callers to the helpline are assessed by a registered nurse. Based on symptoms and GP access, the nurse may then, depending on urgency, offer a phone or video call with a GP in 15 minutes to one hour. At the end of the call, patients are sent a care advice summary via SMS or email, so they can easily recall the details of the advice and take it to their regular GP for follow-up at a later date.
“Access to fast and reliable health advice is important to everyone, that’s why the expansion of the healthdirect service to include GP after hours advice is so important,” NT Chief Minister and Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.
“The Territory Labor Government will continue to invest in healthcare that benefits all Territorians, no matter if you are in the city or the bush.”
The expansion of the healthdirect hotline follows the recent opening of a Medicare Urgent Care Clinic in Palmerston, with a second Alice Springs clinic due to open on Wednesday 1 November.
The clinics provide short term care for urgent but non-life-threatening emergencies from Palmerston GP Super Clinic and Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Northside Clinic respectively.
In 2021-22, more than half of NT emergency department presentations were for non-urgent or semi-urgent care. Lingiari MP Marion Scrymgour said the new clinics would address this issue.
“I’ve heard from people across the Northern Territory how difficult it can be to access medical care when they have a pressing health concern, but they can’t get in to see a GP,” she said.
‘The [clinics] will ease pressure on our local emergency departments and be much more convenient for our community – closer to home, at short notice and bulk billed under Medicare.”
NT Health will directly commission the clinics, which will be supported by NT Primary Health Network to purchase equipment and promote their services.
“The UCC clinics in Palmerston and Alice Springs are in the right places to help the people who need it most,” NT Primary Health Network CEO Gill Yearsley said.
“They will be set up to provide quick medical help. This is part of our plan to make sure everyone can easily get the right level of medical care they need, when they need it.”