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Albo’s $227m urgent care boost

Written by on May 11, 2024

Labor will funnel $227m into opening 29 more urgent care clinics across the country, as part of a broader multi-billion dollar health package in Tuesday’s budget.

Despite a slow start to the rollout and ongoing concerns about opening hours, there have been almost 400,000 visits to the 58 bulk-billed clinics that have opened across the country since last July.

Designed to ease pressure on emergency departments, anyone with a Medicare card is able to walk in to see a doctor or nurse for urgent, non life-threatening ailments such as minor injuries and respiratory infections.

Health Minister Mark Butler said existing centres were working as designed, with about one in two presentations reporting they would have gone to an emergency department if they didn’t have the option of visiting an urgent care clinic.

“Medicare urgent care clinics are already fulfilling their promise by making sure Australians can walk in and receive urgent care quickly and for free,” Mr Butler said.

“Medicare UCCs are making a difference, for patients and for busy hospital emergency departments.

“More UCCs, in more locations, and all patients need is their Medicare card.”

The location of the new clinics have yet to be determined.

To date, about one in three visits have been for children under the age of 15, and over a third of visits have been after 5pm on weekdays or on the weekend.

But in the last round of Senate estimates, it was revealed the majority of those had fallen short of their objective of opening from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week, with only about 16 advertising that they met that criteria as of February 9.

Many clinics have opening hours of 8am to 6pm, or 8am to 8pm Monday to Sunday, while some clinics only offer 8am to 10pm during the week but not on weekends.

Others operate with reduced hours on the weekend, including the clinic in Albury in regional NSW, which currently advertises as only opening for four hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Devonport clinic in Tasmania currently operates between 2pm and 10pm, seven days a week.

Mr Butler confirmed the budget would have $8.5bn in new health investment, and would provide additional funding for clinics in regional, rural and remote Australia.

He said the government would continue to work closely with state and territory governments, and primary health networks, to roll out the clinics.

Currently, there are 14 clinics in NSW, 10 in Victoria, 11 in Queensland, seven in WA, five in South Australia, four in Tasmania, five in the ACT and two in the Northern Territory.

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