Park said it would also benefit “the frontline healthcare workers in our busy emergency departments”.
The expansion would make the service available to clinicians in rural and regional hospitals, as well as paramedics in non-emergency situations.
Emergency department attendances typically increase during winter, in line with rates of respiratory viruses in the community. There were a record 30,000 emergency department presentations at the Westmead and Randwick children’s hospitals in the April to June quarter last year, Bureau of Health Information data shows.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant warned last week of an early start to the flu season, noting health services were preparing for a potentially protracted flu season which “coincides with both RSV and COVID circulating at reasonable levels”.
NSW Health’s weekly respiratory surveillance report shows the number of people affected by viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has risen over the past month.
The number of positive tests for influenza has increased week on week since the end of February and the proportion of tests returning as positive has also increased.
Rates of RSV, most common in children under the age of two, have doubled since mid-March, the same reports show.
Fiona Hennessy, from St Marys, was directed to the virtualKIDS service from a HealthDirect call after her daughter Aurora, 3, came down with a vomiting bug on Good Friday, when many GPs were closed.
“I needed someone to tell me what do I need to look out for, do I need to take her to hospital?” Hennessy said. “Because otherwise, I would have.”
She said the call, which she made from her bed, was comprehensive, and she felt equipped to manage her daughter’s symptoms based on the advice, with a plan in place to go to hospital if things got worse, which, fortunately, they did not.
“They could see her skin tone, and they asked, is she normally that pale? But they could also see her demeanour, how she was participating,” Hennessy said.
Dr Joanne Ging, director of clinical operations at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, said the pilot had been well received by patients and their families, and transformed the care the hospital network was able to provide by assessing children within the comfort of their own homes.
“By assessing children before they get to hospital, we can find the best healthcare pathway for them, whether this is indeed a trip to an emergency department, a consultation with one of our virtualKIDS paediatricians or a visit to their local GP or urgent care service, saving them time in both travel and in waiting for treatment,” Ging said.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.