Huge rise in non-urgent presentations to Wagga Rural Referral Hospital emergency department, according to Bureau of Health Information

Wagga residents are increasingly opting for the emergency department instead of going to a GP, according to figures released on Wednesday.

The Bureau of Health Information statistics from July to September clearly show a continued rise in non-urgent visits to Wagga Rural Referral Hospital, despite repeated calls to “leave emergency for emergencies”. Compared to the same period last year, there were 256 more non-urgent presentations to the emergency department, an increase of 34.8 per cent.

While there was not a single reason why people went to hospital instead of a GP, a number of health professionals believed a devaluing of medical treatment, combined with fewer bulk-billing surgeries, pushed people to seek free treatment at hospitals. At the same time a number of surgeries, like Kooringal Medical Centre, were recruiting more doctors to meet demand.

Kooringal practice manager Cheryl Balkwill said if people couldn’t get in to see a GP, they would go the the hospital instead.

“We obviously need to treat urgent cases and give precedence to regular patients, we like to assist but we can’t do the impossible,” Ms Balkwill said. “People can go to the after-hours clinic on Morgan Street, there’s a large number of doctors on the roster, but if someone feels they need to be seen (and can’t get in) then what other choice have they got but to go to hospital?”

According to Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network, the Morgan Street after-hours service bulk-billed children under 16, concession card holders, tertiary students and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. However, people were encouraged to call the HealthDirect GP Helpline or use the online symptom checker to find out if they needed to visit a doctor at all.

Despite failing to reduce the influx of minor illnesses at the mergency department, the BHI figures showed Wagga Rural Referral Hospital was kicking goals in many other categories. Response times to emergency and urgent cases improved over the previous year and more elective surgery procedures were being performed on time. However, the elective surgery waiting time had increased slightly across all categories.

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If you need help:

  • Call “000” in an emergency. 
  • Wagga GP After Hours Service: 6931 0900
  • HealthDirect: 1800 022 222