Five new nurse-led walk in centres would be built in growing areas of Canberra if Labor was to be re-elected in the October 17 poll, the party has promised as the ACT election campaign kicks off in earnest.
It's the latest in a series of health announcements from both major parties, with the Canberra Liberals promising $5 million for a new hydrotherapy pool in Deakin on Sunday.
Under the Labor plan, new centres would be built in south Tuggeranong, west Belconnen, in the inner south, the Molonglo region and north Gungahlin.
Walk-in centres treat minor illnesses and can deal with cuts, abrasions, strains and sprain and minor limb fractures as well as wound dressings, some X-rays and plastering and emergency contraception, among other issues, and are free.
As well as walk-in centres, each new centre would be a community health centre, which would include appointment-based services, with focuses to be decided in consultation with the local community.
Services that could be included at the community health centres include preventive services like healthy eating, oral health and alcohol and drug use, as well as supporting chronic illnesses like arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.
Pathology and radiology could also be part of the community health centres.
The commitment is part of Labor's health push to win an unprecedented sixth term in government in the ACT, and would be rolled out progressively from 2021-22 into the middle of the decade.
The promise hasn't been costed, with the party saying costs of the new centres will vary depending on whether a new building will be required or an existing building can be refurbished.
Labor's health spokeswoman Rachel Stephen-Smith said the new centres will have some element of immediate treatment, but that will vary across the new centres depending on what the local need is.
"We have really learned a lot of lessons from COVID-19 and feedback from consumers that they want to see better health care, closer to home, and that we need to do more to manage people's chronic illnesses in the community, close to home and away from that hospital setting," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
Nurse-led walk in centres already serve Weston, Gungahlin, Belconnen, Tuggeranong and Dickson, but Labor says the new centres would complement those in existing town centres by offering a mix of walk-in services and the community health services.
The nurse-led walk-in centre model has been criticised by some sectors of the health industry, including the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. In 2018 a visit to the walk-in centres cost taxpayers $188, while a bulk-billed GP visit was $38 to the public purse, but Ms Stephen-Smith said the comparison wasn't an accurate one.
"General practitioners also receive a range of incentives and payments for other activities they undertake, for example if they do a test they will get an additional payment for the processing of that test as well as the payment for the appointment itself," she said.
"But we recognise we need to continue to do more to make our walk-in centres part of an integrated health system."
The announcement forms part of Labor's pledge to employ another 400 healthcare workers in the ACT, with each centre expected to employ between six and 10 full-time equivalent roles, depending on what services are offered.
"Nurse-led multidisciplinary teams will work closely with consumers, carers and general practitioners to help keep Canberrans out of hospital and take pressure off our emergency departments," Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.
"A re-elected Labor team will work with local communities to ensure each local walk-in health centre caters to the needs of our diverse regions and neighborhoods."
Canberra heads to the polls on October 17, with the campaign officially starting on the weekend as the government entered caretaker mode, and a flurry of early announcements were made.
The Canberra Liberals say they would commit $5 million to a hydrotherapy pool at a wellness centre in Deakin in partnership with the John James Foundation and MS Australia.
Liberal health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne, who is retiring from the Legislative Assembly at the election, said the party had first held discussions about the project early last year.
"With the closure of the pool at the Canberra Hospital, everyone agrees that there is a great need for this important health service in the south," Mrs Dunne said.
"The great shame is that action has not been taken earlier to get this project under way."
The wellness centre is expected to include integrated services for people with neurological disorders and musculoskeletal conditions.
An ageing hydrotherapy pool at the Canberra Hospital was closed earlier this year after a two-year battle to keep the facility open ended when an alternative facility in Kambah was found.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.