When Notorious BOG and I were just wee tackers, and prone to falling out of trees and variously smashing each other up, our mother made a point of always having a friend nearby who was a nurse.
Dangling limbs and runny noses would occasionally be presented to one of these nurses and advice sought.
Sometimes the advice would be “give them an aspirin and call me in the morning,” and sometimes it would be “take them to the hospital right now.”
But there are only so many nurses and while they’re generally friendly types even the most prudent mother might, from time to time, lack one to consult.
Misallocation of resources is a huge problem in the health system.
Ambulances pick up little old ladies who really only want a chat and a cup of tea, kids are in emergency who just need a course of antibiotics from a GP, and any number of serious cases approach the need for heroic intervention while they wait and hope for ‘things to get better on their own’.
And so, in an under-hyped piece of far sighted governance, in 2000 the ACT Government set up Health First.
Now everyone 24/7 could dial a number and speak to a registered nurse who would advise them of the best place to take their condition. Even better the system automatically gives the nurse answering the call the details of their nearest appropriate health service, be it a late night chemist, their local clinic, or in extreme cases a soft transfer into the ambulance system.
It works so well that foreign diplomats, after a stint in Canberra, still call it for advice even when they’ve moved on to their next posting.
And they’ve discovered they can virtualise the call centre so that many of the nurses can be working from home. It takes around 4,000 calls a month.
As a 30 something male I was completely unaware of its existence, it hasn’t been actively promoted until now.
But I noticed some of the motherly RiotACTers talking about Health First in a recent discussion and realised this was something I needed to know about.
So I got in touch, and had a meeting with Fred Pilcher from Health First and Sean Allan from healthdirect Australia (note the style, they’re keen on that). In the picture Sean is on the left and Fred on the right.
Due to the success of Health First in the ACT and healthdirect in Western Australia the scheme is being expanded nationally.
Which means the name and number are changing, and surrounding regions in NSW are being turned over to the local service in preparation for a wider rollout.
Before anyone worries about their health queries being routed to Bangalore I should point out that the very first thing the 2006 COAG meeting, which decided on a national scheme, agreed on was that all the phone answerers had to be registered nurses here in Australia.
It’s important to stress that it’s not a replacement to 000. If you know you need an ambulance you should go right ahead.
Where it’s supposed to shine is when people are uncertain of what they should do next, to give them confidence and to make sure they know how to access the next stage of treatment.
(Forgot to mention, fridge magnets are on their way)