If you’re unsure who to call, ask the telephone operator ( 1234) or call your local police station. They can tell you who to contact or even call the appropriate service for you. Whoever you call, you should give the approximate age of the patient and, if possible, specify the type of emergency. Keep a record of the telephone numbers of your ambulance service, dentist, doctor, local hospitals and clinics, and other emergency services, next to your telephone. A mobile telephone can be a lifesaver in a remote area or when you need help and are alone.
Dial 000 for an ambulance only in an emergency. Ambulances generally come without a doctor but usually with a paramedic. Many ambulances are equipped with cardiac, oxygen and other emergency equipment (called intensive care ambulances). Ambulance services aren’t covered by Medicare, although in most cities you can become a member of the St John’s Ambulance Association for around $20 per year, which entitles you to free ambulance services. Private health insurance may include ambulance costs.
There are air ambulances (helicopters) in some cities, and remote outback areas are served by the Royal Flying Doctor service, established as a non-profit organisation in 1927 and funded by the federal government and voluntary contributions. The service covers some 80 per cent of outback areas from 20 main bases, ensuring that most patients are less than two hours from medical help. Services include regular clinic visits to remote communities, visits by specialists and, in some areas, dental treatment.
The service also offers advice on touring and emergency procedures (travellers in remote areas can rent a transceiver with emergency call buttons). For more information, contact the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, Federal Office, Level 5, 15-17 Young Street, Sydney, NSW 2000 (Tel. 02-9241 2411, www.flyingdoctor.org.au).
In minor ‘emergencies’, you should telephone your family doctor if you have one. Failing this you can ask the operator (1234) for the telephone number of a local doctor or hospital (or consult your telephone book). Police stations keep a list of doctors’ and chemists’ private telephone numbers in case of emergency. In some cities and regions, there are private, 24-hour doctor services that make house calls (but check the cost before using them). If you have an emergency dental problem outside normal surgery hours, call a dentist providing an emergency service (listed in the yellow pages).
If you’re physically able, you can go to the Accident, Casualty or Emergency department of a public hospital, many of which provide a 24-hour service. Check in advance which local hospitals are equipped to deal with emergencies and the quickest route from your home. This information may be of vital importance in the event of an emergency, when a delay could mean the difference between life and death. Emergency cases, irrespective of nationality and the ability to pay, are never turned away in Australia, and treatment may be free if you’re a national of a country with a reciprocal health agreement with Australia.