60% of patients presented at Coffs Harbour Health Campus' emergency ward with non-urgent and semi-urgent matters.
60% of patients presented at Coffs Harbour Health Campus' emergency ward with non-urgent and semi-urgent matters. Dan Himbrechts

GP costs send patients to ER

PATIENTS are presenting at hospital emergency departments with non-urgent and semi-urgent matters because they cannot afford to see a GP.

Statewide, 54% of presentations to hospital emergency departments in the last quarter of 2015 could have been treated by a doctor.

Locally, 60% of patients presented with non-urgent and semi-urgent matters.

Between October and December last year, 9370 patients attended the emergency department at Coffs Harbour Base Hospital and 9091 of these were triaged into the categories resuscitation (triage one), emergency (two), urgent (three), semi-urgent (four) and non-urgent (five).

Nineteen per cent (1703) of these presentations were non-urgent, while 41% (3727) were semi-urgent.

The data from the Bureau of Health Information shows people are turning up in record numbers for small cuts, coughs, earaches and sprained ankles, as well as to obtain free medications for conditions such as asthma and diabetes.

NSW Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord said the growing trend could be attributed to the cost of visiting a GP.

"Sadly, this is the impact of a lack of access to GPs with bulk billing - forcing parents to take their children to emergency departments because they are unable to pay for a GP," Mr Secord said.

"This is inconvenient to parents because they often have to wait longer than four hours in emergency departments - but it also shifts the cost to the state taxpayer.

"Furthermore, additional triage four and five category patients mean that urgent patients are forced to compete with less urgent patients for doctors' and nurses' attention."

Mr Secord said cuts to health and hospitals had a human cost.

"There are thousands of mothers, fathers, children and grandparents who rely on the health and hospital system," he said.

"In NSW, patients wait at every stage.

"They wait for an ambulance. They wait outside hospital to get into the emergency department. They wait for a hospital bed and then they are rushed out of the hospital before they are fully recovered."

EMERGENCY ROOM VISITS
Presentations at Coffs Harbour Base Hospital emergency department between October and December, 2015:

Resuscitation - 1% (69)
Emergency - 9% (845)
Urgent - 30% (2747)
Semi-urgent - 41% (3727)
Non-urgent - 19% (1703)



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