A virtual urgent care service to help keep children out of emergency departments is being expanded across the entire New South Wales.
NSW Premier Chris Minns announced that the virtualKIDS Urgent Care Service, which is currently available in three local health districts – South Eastern Sydney, Western Sydney and Hunter New England LHDs – will be rolled out statewide by the end of the year.
Accessible via HealthDirect, the service assesses children via video conferencing with a clinical nurse, who then determines their best care pathway and care provider based on their specific needs, whether a trip to the ED, a consultation with a paediatrician, or a visit to a local GP or urgent care centre.
NSW Health has poured in over A$4 million ($2.7 million) to set up, staff, and operate the pilot of the service, which is being done in collaboration with Healthdirect, SCHN and Hunter New England Kids Health.
It has also been a part of the virtualKIDS programme since December last year. The virtualKIDS programme, running as a pilot since December 2021, was established by the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network to care for children during the pandemic.
WHY IT MATTERS
According to a media release, the virtual urgent care service seeks to keep children out of EDs and provide care closer to home.
“This allows families to access care faster and avoid unnecessary trips to [the] hospital while also helping to reduce pressure on busy EDs in cases where children’s care can be safely and more appropriately managed at home with the support of a clinician or by their GP,” Premier Minns said.
Its statewide expansion is also expected to provide specialist paediatric advice to clinicians in rural and regional hospitals and to paramedics in non-emergency situations.
THE LARGER TREND
During the pandemic, other Australian states have introduced virtual services to reduce hospital admissions while alleviating pressures on their capacity.
Recently, these have been expanded to cater to rising post-pandemic care demands. For example, Victoria’s Northern Health already expanded access to the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department to people living in residential aged care facilities and COVID-19 patients being treated at home.
Following an initial trial in 2021, SA Health further rolled out the SA Virtual Care Service to more than 120 residential care facilities statewide.
Queensland Hospital and Health Services also made its virtual ED service – originally developed and launched by Metro North Health in 2020, accessible to all patients across the state.