Rural Victorians deserve free urgent care

October 12, 2022

Too many rural Victorians are paying for urgent healthcare when their city counterparts receive free treatment at emergency departments, the Victorian Healthcare Association (VHA) says.

In its election platform, the VHA is calling for all political parties to commit to funding rural urgent care centres so no Victorian will have to pay for urgent care.

Victoria has around 60 rural urgent care centres, which are typically staffed by nurses and on-call GPs to provide urgent care for people close to home. However, unlike emergency departments funded by the State Government, doctors at rural urgent care centres are paid by Medicare. This means they sometimes charge an out-of-pocket fee for their service.

Rural urgent care centres may also charge a fee for diagnostics and pathology, such as X-rays and blood tests, because they are not always paid by the State Government to provide these services.

The VHA, which represents public health services in Victoria, is concerned that fees may deter people from seeking help at rural urgent care centres, causing their health problem to worsen. The fees might also prompt people to call an ambulance or drive to an emergency department further away when both Ambulance Victoria and hospital emergency departments are facing record-breaking demand.

Deputy CEO of the VHA Juan Paolo Legaspi said the VHA wants the next state government to formalise the role of urgent care centres by fully funding them.

‘We want the next Victorian State Government to fully fund rural urgent care centres so that no Victorian will have to pay for emergency care. Almost a quarter of Victorians live outside of Melbourne. Access to emergency care should be equal, no matter where you live,’ he said.

‘Urgent Care Centres are a vital health service, delivering urgent care to rural communities. They provide treatment to people close to their home for minor injuries, infections, and other problems that should not require a long trip to a hospital emergency department. This takes pressure off the rest of our public health system which is experiencing record-breaking demand.’

According to the Victorian Department of Health, Victoria has around 60 rural urgent care centres and 40 emergency departments. Rural urgent care centres account for nine per cent of Victoria’s urgent and emergency care presentations. The approximate 60 rural urgent care centres see more than 140,000 presentations per year, with the busiest centres seeing more than 8,000 patients per year and the smallest services seeing around 100 patients per year.