A campaign is under way to urge patients to use after-hours GPs rather than emergency health services after it was revealed ambulances were called to almost 5000 less-urgent cases in one Perth region alone last year.
Perth Central and East Metro Medicare Local want patients to use GP after-hours clinics to reduce non-emergency ambulance call-outs and hospital presentations. St John Ambulance and the Australian Medical Association WA's council of general practice have backed the call.
St John figures show there were 4885 "low acuity" call-outs last year in the central and east metropolitan area, which covers about 438,000 people. Morley, Ellenbrook, Midland and Ballajura had the most non-emergencies.
St John said people should not be deterred from calling for an ambulance if they felt they needed urgent attention but for some being taken to an emergency department was not appropriate.
Chief executive Tony Ahern said less urgent call-outs often included people with secondary medical issues, such as patients recovering from surgery or injury. "Having more GP availability, like after-hours services, could give them another option," he said, adding that one in six patients who called an ambulance was low acuity and did not need emergency department care.
"Across all of our emergency departments over a year that might mean about 10,000 patients who simply do not need to be there," Mr Ahern said.
AMA WA president Michael Gannon said it was important to use resources carefully.
"There is a tendency for some people to use ambulances almost as a free taxi service," he said.
The campaign is backed by local GPs, including Dr Aparna Hedge, and families such as Carrie Oliver and her son Matthew, 5, who use after-hours GP services.
It will use social media and promotions at train stations, doctors' surgeries and shopping centres, and the website www.percyspractice.com.au .