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Patients speak out about Urgent Care Clinics

Patients have spoken about their experiences at Adelaide’s Urgent Care Clinics, which are being forced to turn people away as they hit capacity hours before closing.

Jan 12, 2024, updated Jan 12, 2024
ForHealth's Elizabeth Medicare Urgent Care Clinic is located inside the Elizabeth Medical & Dental Centre. Photo via Elizabeth Medical & Dental Centre website.

ForHealth's Elizabeth Medicare Urgent Care Clinic is located inside the Elizabeth Medical & Dental Centre. Photo via Elizabeth Medical & Dental Centre website.

Medicare Urgent Care Clinics were opened across Australia by the federal government last year in a bid to relieve pressure on strained hospital emergency departments.

Pauline Faulkner told InDaily that she visited the Elizabeth Medicare Urgent Care Clinic on December 29 with her mother who was having trouble breathing, after she was unable to find a GP appointment.

“We got there around 3:30-4 pm and every single person in the line before us, which was big, were turned away as they said they were too busy and didn’t have time to see them, even though they all had booked times,” Faulkner said.

After explaining her mother’s pre-existing condition of chronic lymphatic leukaemia, Faulkner was told the clinic, which closes at 8pm, was unable to fit them in and that they should return the following day.

Emma Sweetman visited the Morphett Vale clinic, which closes at 7pm, around 5pm on January 4 with a suspected dislocated knee and damage to her meniscus and ACL due to Ehlors-Danlos syndrome complications.

“They just told me they were full and they wouldn’t be able to see me that day,” Sweetman said.

“I had to go to emergency because whilst I manage my pain well, it was intense.”

Sweetman waited approximately four hours at the emergency department before she was seen.

When InDaily visited the Elizabeth clinic on Thursday afternoon there was a line to the door of people waiting, though the waiting room itself held just a handful of people.

One person said they had been told at 4:45pm to return the next morning due to medical imaging being closed, but did not plan on seeking another option unless their son’s pain worsened before they could return.

The waiting room at the Western Urgent Care Clinic on Port Road at Royal Park held just two patients at 4pm Thursday afternoon.

RAH ED

The Royal Adelaide Hospital emergency department. File photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

When asked yesterday on FIVEaa about a patient with a possible ankle fracture being turned away from an Urgent Care Clinic, federal Health Minister Mark Butler said walk-ins should never be turned away.

“These clinics are paid to be available for walk-in appointments, that’s the whole purpose of them,” he said.

“We deliberately set these up so that people did not have to make an appointment. Sometimes they will take appointments, but the vast bulk of patients will just walk in.”

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An SA Health Facebook post about the clinics on Tuesday attracted some positive comment, but also drew responses from some who said they had been turned away or otherwise had a negative experience.

Wendy Head, practice manager of the Morphett Vale Urgent Care Clinic which opened on December 28, said it had operated well so far and explained why patients may be turned away.

“We consistently see between 40 and 50 [patients] a day, and because we’re limited by a finish time, we call our capacity when it’s required towards the end of the day,” Head said.

“Once we know we’re booked through to our closing time, we then are at capacity, but we’ve been pretty good at not turning many people away at all.”

Andrew Crow, the SA director of ForHealth, the company that helped open the clinics, told InDaily there were various reasons patients might be turned away.

“There will be times where patients who want to access the Urgent Care Clinics are appropriately redirected and this includes back to their usual GP if the condition is non urgent or potentially to the Emergency Department if this is the safest option,” he said.

“The impact though is more than just saving emergency department presentations, it is about the care patients are able to receive, and their experience.”

Crow recently had to take his teenage daughter to visit a clinic twice in one day after a cut to her hand and an ACL injury, and found it a good option for care.

“As a parent I saw firsthand the value of the urgent care clinics,” he said.

“It was very much appreciated for my daughter to be able to be seen quickly when bleeding and in pain, rather than wait hours in the emergency department.”

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