Coombs mother of two Sky Smolenaais has already experienced the value of a nurse-led walk-in centre, and is glad to see the opening of the new and more conveniently located Weston Creek facility adjoining Cooleman Court.
The service, in the refurbished Community Health Centre at 24 Parkinson Street, with which it is co-located, officially opened yesterday (13 December) but was launched by Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith after a traditional smoking ceremony on Thursday.
The $5 million project will mean Ms Smolenaais won’t have to go all the way to Tuggeranong where one of her sons previously required attention for a cut.
She says the 7:30 am to 10:00 pm opening hours every day of the year are a plus, and the walk-in centre is not as intimidating as Canberra Hospital’s emergency department.
“We received some really lovely service that prevented us having to attend emergency, which was very helpful,” she said.
“It’s very reassuring to know that we have a service like this in the local area, particularly after hours and as a mother of young boys.”
She says accessing a bulk-billed GP, especially after hours, has been a problem in the past.
The Weston Creek centre, the city’s fourth, will have more than 10 full-time equivalent nursing positions and four administration staff and will treat minor injuries, strains, sprains, breaks and illnesses, referring more serious cases to doctors or the ED if necessary.
It will not only serve Weston Creek but the growing suburbs of the Molonglo Valley and the established ones of Woden. Based on the number of presentations at the other Walk-in Centres, the Government expects between 20,000 to 24,000 visits in the year at Weston Creek alone.
The new centre has a budget of $1.80 million for 2019-20 for the remainder of the financial year. For the 2020-21 financial year, the budget is $2.44 million, based on a model of four patient treatment rooms.
Ms Stephen-Smith says walk-in centres treated more than 17,000 people from July to September in 2019, and anecdotal feedback suggests many would have gone to ED without the walk-in centre.
The latest data shows that during 2018-19, waiting times in the ACT’s ED were among the worst in the nation and the issue remains a running sore for ACT Health.
Ms Stephen-Smith says that while overall presentations at EDs have increased, the number of category 4 (semi-urgent) and 5 (non-urgent) lower acuity ones have actually reduced, with category 5 down 10 per cent.
“We’re still accumulating the data but we’re really confident that the nurse-led walk-in centres are increasingly being seen as an alternative to emergency departments,” she said.
But she acknowledged the limitations of the walk-in centres, saying they are part of an overall strategy to improve the EDs’ performance.
“We’re doing everything we can to take pressure off emergency departments and to improve wait times,” she said. “We understand that for patients, particularly in category 3 [urgent] and 4, wait times are not where we would expect them to be.”
She says the $6.7 million expansion of Calvary ED on the northside will increase capacity by 50 per cent when it opens in March, which will boost capacity across the whole system by 20 per cent before the busy winter season next year.
Many doctors have not been convinced of the walk-in centres value, saying they cost too much for the benefit they provide, but Ms Stephen-Smith says they are designed to work with existing services and general practice.
She says the Tuggeranong centre and nearby general practice have begun to work collaboratively.
“This isn’t about competing for patients. This is about understanding that there is enough work for everyone and we need to build an integrated system,” she said.
Phase 2 of the Weston Creek refurbishment will provide additional space for Maternal and Child Services, maternity and community nursing and is expected to open in early 2020.
A fifth walk-in centre will open in Dickson late next year as part of the new Community Health Centre and the Directorate will continue to monitor services and future needs across the ACT.