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Providers urged to use emergency services only for life-threatening health needs

Large red sign on a hospital building that reads Emergency


What you need to know

  • Due to workforce shortages and high demand for services, health authorities are urging the public to use emergency departments and ambulance services only for life-threatening immediate care.
  • For providers, there are a range of urgent options across Australia when a health emergency is not life-threatening.
  • For people with disability, other options can reduce long waits in emergency departments and the risk of infection.
  • By knowing the options for health care, disability workers can better discuss the matter with a health professional and get advice on whether using emergency services is necessary.

Because of high demand and workforce shortages from high rates of COVID-19, flu and other infections, emergency health services are under pressure. Health authorities urge the public to use emergency departments and ambulance services only for life-threatening immediate care.

Support coordinators and disability workers in residential accommodation, respite care and in-home care should familiarise themselves with the options when non-life-threatening emergency care is needed. The options should also be discussed with staff, people with disability, and their family and carers.

By using alternative emergency care services when appropriate, providers can reduce infection risks and the stress of long waits for ambulances and in emergency department waiting rooms.

Disability workers always need a person-centred approach in handling health emergencies, involving the person with disability in the conversation and applying appropriate adjustments for communication and understanding. Whenever a health professional is consulted on their behalf, the discussion must align with their family, carer and organisation’s consent policy and procedures for health matters.

Life threatening or immediate health concerns

You should always call 000 when the person’s health symptoms or concerns are life-threatening or require critical urgent care.

Day-to-day health needs or concerns should be discussed with their general practitioner or primary health clinic. Community pharmacists can also help with questions about prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Uncertain about symptoms and action needed?

If you are uncertain about the urgency of need, use the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care healthdirect symptom checker. This consists of a short set of questions to determine if a health concern would benefit from a doctor’s assessment.

The symptom checker does not give a diagnosis and is not a substitute for a health professional assessment. It simply provides a guide to next steps, including an option to find local health services for further advice.

Urgent care options

Funded through the commonwealth, state and territory governments, urgent care options include:


The healthdirect helpline is free on 1800 022 222 and registered nurses are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week when you're not sure what to do. The triage nurse will tell you whether it is best to see a local GP, manage the condition at home, or attend an emergency department. Call charges may apply for mobiles.

You can get hearing or speech impairment support through National Relay Service on 1800 555 677 and asking to be transferred to healthdirect.

For interpreter support, call TIS National on 131 450 and ask to be transferred to healthdirect.

The Victorian and Queensland services have a different name and contact number for the 24–7 nurse advice line.


Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, in all states and territories, offer bulk-billed consultations with no appointment needed for urgent non-life-threatening needs including:

  • Minor infections, including urinary tract (UTI’s) and sexually transmitted (STI’s)
  • fractures, sprains, sports injuries, neck, and back pain
  • Minor burns, cuts, eye, and ear problems
  • Respiratory illness and gastroenteritis.

Clinics open early and late every day.

Video resources

Three  videos from Medicare explain the difference between routine, urgent and emergency care needs.

State and territory information

These links include emergency service information as well as non-urgent care triage options.

Contact information
Heather McMinn, Senior Disability Sector Consultant, 03 8341 4305, submit enquiry/feedback