Private Coast hospital reveals plan for emergency department
WAITING for hours to have your sick child seen after-hours at a hospital emergency department could be a thing of the past for people with private health insurance if Buderim hospital's vision for its own ED comes to fruition.
In a move celebrated by the Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association, Sunshine Coast Private Hospital at Buderim has revealed it is in the early stages of planning an emergency department.
The hospital's general manager, Wallis Westbrook, confirmed the hospital was seeking expressions of interest from parties keen to manage a private ED.
"Building on our longstanding commitment to the region, we regularly explore the feasibility of introducing new services to meet the evolving needs of the Sunshine Coast community, such as a private emergency department," Mr Westbrook said.
The proposed ED would be a 24-hour provider of emergency services.
"The feasibility of such a project will be, in-part, informed by the response we receive from parties interested in managing a private emergency department at our hospital," Mr Westbrook said.
"The proposal is currently at a very early scoping stage and no development timeframe has been defined."
Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association president Roger Faint said there had long been a need for a private emergency department, and the issue had been raised by patients at his Buderim practice and colleagues for the 10 years he had been practicing on the Coast.
"The issue with the public system is they, logically, will look after the more serious end - road traffic accidents, emergencies and acute illnesses," Dr Faint said.
"A child with a sore ear or sprained ankle...they often have to wait one two, three, six hours or end up leaving and not be seen at all."
Private emergency departments around the country included intensive care units and were equipped to treat more severe conditions but most of their customers had lower-level illnesses that various after-hours GP services also attempted to cover, he said.
General practitioners were limited by facilities and specialist skills, such as the ability and resources to x-ray a patient's broken arm and set a plaster cast.
He said privately-run emergency departments did exist around the country but they rarely made a profit, and the expense to patients could be considerable.
"That's okay because many people might prefer to pay the fee - which might be $200 - and be seen and not have their child in pain," he said.
He said it would be a "privilege" that not everyone could afford.
"You can pay if you can afford it and then not sit in a waiting room for a long period of time."
While details of the Buderim hospital's proposal are not yet available, Dr Faint said private emergency departments in Australia always take walk-in patients whether or not they have private health cover.
"You can pay up front...they guarantee you'd be seen," he said.
"It'd be very unusual to turn anyone away if they were unwell - it'd never be an American-style system where you're left languishing if you don't have health cover."
With the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital's staged opening starting next month, a vastly expanded new public emergency department is expected to be up and running by March 27.
Dr Faint said that while these new services are much-needed, public emergency departments will always focus on short-term, more serious conditions.
Sunshine Coast emergency departments
- Sunshine Coast University Hospital (Queensland Health): opening March 27
- Caloundra Health Service (Queensland Health): closing when SCUH opens
- Nambour General Hospital (Queensland Health): remaining open
- Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital (Queensland Health): remaining open
- Noosa Hospital (Ramsay Health Care/Queensland Health public-private partnership): open
Sunshine Coast Private Hospital at Buderim
The Buderim hospital has for nearly 40 years cared for hundreds of thousands of people across the Coast community.
It's owned by the not-for-profit organisation UnitingCare Queensland, the second largest employer in the state. Its other services include Blue Care (aged care), UnitingCare Community (children, family and disability support) and Lifeline.
Its health arm, UnitingCare Health, includes four not-for-profit private hospitals including Sunshine Coast Private Hospital at Buderim.