Parents and carers will now be able to take children as young as one-year-old to a Walk-In Centre for treatment for minor illnesses and ailments.
Previously, Walk-In Centres were only able to treat children two years and older.
But 18 months of research confirmed the minor issues one-year-olds at emergency departments were receiving treatment for were essentially the same as those that two-year-olds were receiving care for at the Walk-In Centres.
Minor wounds like burns and cuts, ear infections and illnesses such as gastro and the common cold can be treated at the Territory’s four centres which are located in Tuggeranong, Belconnen, Weston and Gungahlin.
The Inner North centre has been closed since August 2021 as staff were redeployed to work at the Garran COVID-19 clinic.
If parents are worried about their children or they have anything more serious than the above ailments, they are encouraged to seek urgent care at the emergency department.
Advanced practice nurse Jon Howes said he had previously been frustrated that the centres could not care for one-year-olds, as they were essentially treated in the same way as two-year-olds.
“[We’d] see a lot of one-year-olds present with things that were quite appropriate for us to treat but it wasn’t within our model of care,” he explained.
“Parents also became frustrated because they might not be able to get into a GP or they don’t necessarily want to go to the emergency department either, they’d just want a bit of guidance and advice.
“So we progressed into research to find out if it would be viable.”
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said while the change would ease some of the pressure on the Territory’s busy emergency departments, that hadn’t been the core rationale behind it.
“The primary motivation for this isn’t to take the pressure off [them], it’s really to ensure parents and carers of one-year-olds have better access to service and supports and don’t have to spend their time waiting in the ED,” she said.
“It’s really about making life easier for those little ones for whom a wait in the emergency department isn’t a great experience.”
Ms Stephen-Smith wouldn’t fully go into the details of why one-year-olds hadn’t previously been able to be treated, but she did say the past year-and-a-half of research had shown one-year-olds could, in fact, receive treatment at the Walk-In Centres safely.
Staffing arrangements would not need to be adjusted to manage the change in regulation, she confirmed.
The Health Minister urged parents to take their children to the hospital if they were unwell or quickly becoming much sicker.
Nurse-led Walk-In Centres are open seven days a week, including public holidays. For current opening hours and waiting times, visit the Canberra Health services website.