Virtual care services prioritised in SA health budget

4 minute read

Covid era services are being permanently extended after proving both popular and effective in easing ED loads.

The South Australian government has pledged to pour over $130m into virtual healthcare over the next five years, as part of an almost $2bn health cash splash.

Almost $100m over five years will be spent to extend virtual healthcare services, including the Women’s and Children’s Health Networks child and adolescent service.

This covid-era service will be permanently extended at a cost of $30.8m over the next four years. CAVUCS connects families remotely with a virtual team of emergency doctors and nurses at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The service has seen more than 24,320 patients since opening in August 2021, with 90% of them (21,862 families and young patients) avoiding an unnecessary trip to the ED. It also works closely with the SA Ambulance Service and has enabled 1020 ambulances to treat children at home instead of being taken to hospital.

“For parents and caregivers concerned about their child’s condition and unsure of where to go for their urgent care needs, our virtual service is an efficient way to connect with skilled clinicians for them to assess, provide medical advice, and coordinate appropriate care,” said CAVUCS medical unit head Dr Benjamin D’Souza.

“CAVUCS is a national leader in delivering virtual paediatric urgent care and continues to receive overwhelming positive support from the community about the vital solution it is offering families.

“Our free service is available seven days a week, 9am to 9pm, for families and caregivers to receive care from the comfort of their home for their children aged between 6 months and up to 18 years.”

In addition, the adult SA Virtual Care Service (SAVCS) will receive $67.8m over five years to expand its services – reducing emergency department presentations by providing virtual care by senior doctors, nurses, and paramedics.

About 18,000 people have used the adult virtual care service since it was established in December 2021, with 80% of patients avoiding an unnecessary trip to the ED and receiving high-quality, safe, individualised care at home, or via more appropriate services in the community.

Another $31.5m will be invested in the State Health Control Centre over the next five years. The initial phase of the SHCC was launched in May this year, but an upscaled version will open in 2025 in the new SA Ambulance Service Headquarters, where it will provide “24/7 support and oversight of the health and hospital system, improving patient flow and reducing hospital overcrowding”.

“The upscaled centre will consist of a boosted multi-disciplinary team of clinicians, including nursing staff, medical staff and paramedics, supported by expertise in predictive data and analytics, simulation, training and logistics,” the SA government said in a statement.

SA Health Minister Chris Picton said the virtual services were a high priority for the government.

“When you’ve got a sick child, you can’t get into a GP and you don’t need to go to an ED, our virtual care service can provide timely, safe health care in your own home,” he said.

“Our adult virtual care service offers the same convenience and care for older South Australians.

“These services not only provide convenient and practical health care for unwell South Australians and their families, but importantly they also take pressure off our EDs and hospital system.

“They help patients avoid an unnecessary trip to the emergency department which is a key factor in our efforts to reduce overcrowding at our major hospitals.”

The biggest single item in the health budget measures was a $1.2bn commitment to build a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and another $100m for the already blown-out costing for the Mount Barker Hospital.

Other health measures include:

  • $27.6m over four years for additional doctors, physios, pharmacists and other staff to work on weekends to enable patient discharges;
  • $17.6m over five years to assist long-stay patients to leave hospital;
  • $22.3m over five years to continue operating 24 beds at Regency Green, aimed at NDIS patients;
  • $20m over two years to upgrade the paediatric intensive care unit at the current Women’s and Children’s Hospital; and,
  • $20m over three years for four new ambulance stations and the rebuild of four existing stations.

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