Empowering nurse practitioner care in SA

South Australians will have more options for free primary health care as part of a new pilot program expanding the number of nurse practitioners working in GP clinics, which will also help ease pressure on busy emergency departments.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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South Australians will have more options for free primary health care as part of a new pilot program expanding the number of nurse practitioners working in GP clinics, which will also help ease pressure on busy emergency departments.

The Nurse Practitioner Primary Care Pilot will fund six nurse practitioners over the next year to diagnose and treat a wide range of health conditions in the community, as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

It forms part of a $10 million investment from the Federal Government to develop new ways to improve primary care in South Australia and reduce pressure on hospital emergency departments.

The funding has been split between two key programs - $2.6 million towards the nurse practitioner pilot, and $7.5 million to expand the state’s Healthdirect services.

The nurse practitioner service will be free of charge for patients, giving people another avenue to receive care without needing to go to an emergency department.

It will also increase the capacity of GP clinics and other primary care providers to see and treat more patients, offering communities better access to appropriate care close to home.

Nurse practitioners can assess and diagnose patients, request and interpret tests, prescribe therapies and medications, and receive and make referrals to other health practitioners.

The locations for the new nurse practitioners will be decided after an Expression of Interest process and consultation, with four likely to be placed in metropolitan Adelaide and two based in key regional areas.

Nurse practitioners and targeted metropolitan primary care practices interested in applying have until 21 March to do so via the Adelaide Primary Health Network’s website.

Expressions of interest will open for regional nurse practitioner placements during stage two of the pilot in the coming weeks.

The $10 million funding package aims to strengthen the link between primary care services and the hospital system, making it easier for people to get the care they need in the most appropriate setting and ensuring hospital emergency departments remain available to people experiencing a health emergency.

This investment has also expanded SA’s Healthdirect services with the introduction of the GP Extension Service and the Consumer Front Door.

The GP Extension Service is available 24/7 and connects people to a telehealth appointment with a GP for urgent medical assessment, particularly when they are unable to access a local GP appointment.

Since the service was introduced in July 2023, more than 4,300 people have been connected to a GP telehealth appointment, with 87 per cent avoiding an ED presentation.

Introduced in October 2023, the Consumer Front Door service is available to people with urgent, but non-life-threatening health care needs. Operating between 9am to 9pm daily, the caller is transferred to a South Australian based virtual care service and then, where required, connected to a face-to-face service for assessment, support and treatment.

It has triaged more than 1,600 people, with 75 per cent avoiding a trip to the ED by having their care needs met through the SA Virtual Care Service or the Child and Adolescent Virtual Urgent Care Service or an out-of-hospital service such as Priority Care Centres and Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. 

South Australians can access these services by calling the free Healthdirect hotline on 1800 022 222. 

Quotes attributable to Minister Butler

"The Albanese Government is working hard to strengthen Medicare so that every Australian can get the high quality, timely health care they need – and deserve.

"That means different things in different places. For South Australia, building a greater role for nurse practitioners will mean more people can be treated in the primary care system.

"At the same time, bolstering the state’s Healthdirect services will offer even more options for South Australian families, especially outside of standard business hours.

"These additional services – alongside our five SA Medicare Urgent Care Clinics – are working together to keep emergency departments free for critically ill patients while ensuring all South Australians have ready access to primary health care."

Quotes attributable to Minister Picton

"This will give South Australians more options to receive free primary health care when they need it, closer to home.

"Nurse practitioners are the best trained and skilled nurses – and already provide care for thousands of people in emergency departments. This program providing free nurse practitioner care in General Practices will help more people get free access for their chronic and complex care needs. 

"When people can’t access quality, accessible and affordable primary care they often get sicker and have no choice but to go to an emergency department.   

"Similarly we are now helping people who call Healthdirect to connect to a virtual or priority care service rather than visiting emergency. This is more convenient for the patient and helps to keep pressure off our busy emergency departments. So if you have a health concern – please call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222."

Quotes attributable to SA Health Acting Executive Director Integrated Care Systems, Cassandra Ryan

"This pilot will give people more options when it comes to seeking advice and treatment for non-life-threatening healthcare which will, in turn, help to ease demand on our hospital system.

"This will benefit patients as they can get support closer to home, while also supporting primary care providers by broadening their services.

"Along with the Adelaide Primary Health Network, we will be monitoring the impact this investment has on patient access to primary care."

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