NEW data shows the impact a shortage of general practitioners across the Wimmera is having on the region's sole emergency department.
That's according to Wimmera Health Care Group medical services director Professor Alan Wolff, who says demand for the service has increased in recent years.
On Wednesday, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released its latest update into care at all emergency departments across Australia.
It shows the proportion of emergency patients being seen within clinically-recommended timeframes at Wimmera Base Hospital continues to drop.
Of the 1115 patients needing emergency care admitted in the 12 months to July, 64 per cent were seen within 10 minutes - the recommended timeframe. Seven years ago, 96 per cent were seen on time, though hospital staff only had to deal with 597 emergency admissions.
Sixty-two per cent of the 4929 patients classified as urgent - needing to be seen within 30 minutes - were seen on time, compared to 84 per cent in the 2011-12 financial year. The overall number of urgent patients was also higher compared to seven years earlier.
As with emergency triages, the overall number of urgent patients was significantly high last financial year compared to seven years ago.
Dr Wolff said the increase in admissions only partly explained the drop in prompt service.
"The other factor is people are finding it very difficult to get appointments with their general practitioners - sometimes a delay of a number of days," he said.
"Sometimes they will come to see us straight away, other times they will spend a few days waiting get worse and come into our emergency department.
"Another reason is particularly after hours, some towns across the region are without a doctor and we become the default service for the region on occasion."
Dr Wolff said the organisation had "increased substantially" the number and seniority of doctors working each shift in the emergency department in Horsham.
He said the Christmas period could sometimes be very busy for the hospital.
"It's highly variable, with the traffic on the highway we do get a number of people travelling between Melbourne and Adelaide that need medication," he said. "Tourists at the Grampians increases our numbers."
Dr Wolff asked residents needing the hospital over the break to have an accurate understanding of their medical records and list of their medications.
Other major Wimmera hospitals Stawell Regional Health and Ararat's East Grampians Health Service do not have emergency departments, but urgent care centres.
Data on the federal government's MyHospitals webpage showed the number of emergency admissions to each hospital dropped in 2016-17 - the most recent year for which data was available - compared to previous years.
EGHS chief executive Andrew Freeman said there were just over 4000 admissions to the Ararat urgent care centre each year, with some admitted to the acute inpatient ward for further care.
"We have a doctor on-call and nurses will triage no differently to an emergency department, but we aren't funded to have a doctor in the centre 24/7," he said.
"We see fluctuations month to month, but we don't particularly see large fluctuations for emergency demand for the Christmas period.
"We're reasonably lucky so we can maintain our resourcing through the year to cope with demand. We're also fortunate that over that Christmas period, we manage our demand by slowing down the amount of elective surgery we do.
"We give people the opportunity to have a holiday - our surgeons who predominantly come from Ballarat appreciate the break over the Christmas period. We obviously continue to provide our obstetrics service - our staff are on call for that no different to any other time of the year."
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