The State Government will introduce a new system to fast-track patients into Perth's three major adult hospitals and take pressure off swamped emergency departments.
Rapid assessment units will be rolled out at Royal Perth, Sir Charles Gairdner and Fremantle hospitals to allow straightforward medical and surgical cases to bypass the normal emergency department process.
It will also mean GPs will be able to refer patients needing simple but urgent treatment to the units, such as an elderly nursing home resident with a bladder infection or a patient with appendicitis.
The move comes after an independent review by retired neurosurgeon Bryant Stokes into the Government's four-hour rule program, which started three years ago and requires doctors to admit or discharge emergency department patients within four hours.
In his report earlier this year, Professor Stokes said that while the program had reduced emergency department overcrowding and made hospitals more efficient, staff were struggling with the changes.
He said that while RPH and SCGH had acute medical assessments units, they did not have a rapid surgical assessment unit.
This put the safety of some patients at significant risk and needed to be addressed urgently.
Health Minister Kim Hames admitted this week that only Fremantle Hospital had a rapid surgical assessment but RPH and SCGH had medical assessment units that could be expanded.
The Health Department had accepted the recommendation to establish and expand medical and surgical assessment units and funding was now being given to help the major hospitals introduce the reforms that were already used overseas and in other States.
"I was impressed with this concept when I saw it in the UK as part of their four-hour rule program," Dr Hames said.
So far, $1.7 million had been provided, including $1.6 million for RPH to complete its medical assessment unit and do the first stage of a surgical assessment unit, while Fremantle Hospital had been given $60,000 to upgrade its medical assessment unit.
Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong welcomed the initiative.
He said it would improve the speed at which patients were treated and avoid unnecessary bottlenecks in emergency departments.
But it was only one of the recommendations from the Stokes report that found hospital staff were frustrated by the lack of resources.
"In particular, we would like to see 24-hour radiological and pathology services and improved training and support for junior doctors," he said. "All these measures also need to be supported by adequate bed numbers because we're already seeing hospitals really struggling this winter when we're only just into the flu season."