HIGH rates of Bendigo residents seeking non-urgent treatment at emergency departments may be a sign of a shortage of general practitioners, authorities say.
The number of Bendigo residents going to emergency departments for non-urgent care was about 40 per cent higher than the nationwide average in 2018-19 according to new data.
It has has risen over the past few years, after a drop between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Nearly 1000 more Bendigo residents went to emergency departments for lower urgency treatment in 2018-19 than the previous year.
Read more: Health system buckling under pressure
Murray Primary Health Network chief executive Matt Jones said these numbers spoke to the challenges accessing GP services in the Bendigo region.
Mr Jones said this meant longer waiting times, and increased presentations at emergency departments.
He warned people seeking non-urgent care at emergency departments put burden on the health system.
"In the Bendigo region we know in terms of access to GP services there's been real challenges in terms of being able to increase number of GPS," Mr Jones said.
"That's translated into waiting times, and also has a flow on effect in terms of increased presentations for that type of service at the emergency department."
Mr Jones said there were two sides to the issue: poorer health outcomes in regional areas, with higher rates of chronic disease, and less access to primary health care services.
He said the regions needed increased access to services, but also a stronger focus on preventative health care and early intervention.
Teleheath - introduced in response to COVID-19 - had the potential to address some of the challenges around heath care in regional areas, Mr Jones said.
The number of Bendigo residents seeking non-urgent care in emergency departments rose between 2017-18 and 2018-19, according to new data.
In the Bendigo region we know in terms of access to GP services there's been real challenges in terms of being able to increase number of GPS.Matt Jones, chief executive Murray Primary Health Network
But the number of people seeking this treatment was still lower than five years ago, in 2015-16.
High rates of non-urgent emergency department presentations can signify a lack of access to other primary health care services, such as general practice treatment.
Bendigo's rate remains nearly 40 per cent higher than the nationwide average, but on par with the average across inner regional areas.
The rate of Bendigo residents presenting at emergency departments rose from 156.2 per 1000 population in 2017-18 to 163.5 in 2018-19, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data.
But it remains lower than the rate of 176.1 presentations per 1000 population in 2015-16.
Heathcare workers have warned for a year that Bendigo residents' health may be at risk, due to a shortage of general practitioners in the region.
Across the nation more than one third of present to emergency were for lower urgency care.
Australia wide this rate has remained relatively stable per 1000 people since 2015-16.
The AIHW defined lower urgency emergency department presentations as those in which the person needed semi-urgent or non-urgent care, having not arrived by ambulance, police or correctional vehicle, was not admitted to hospital, and did not die.
The data is based on where the person seeking treatment lived, rather than the location of the emergency department at which they sought treatment.
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