The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) is calling for urgent improvements in community-based COVID-19 screening and testing options to ease pressures on hospital emergency departments (EDs).

ACEM members are reporting a significant increase in the number of presentations related to COVID-19, including otherwise well patients phoning or presenting at hospital EDs seeking coronavirus testing.

ACEM President Dr John Bonning said the upsurge in presentations was adding to the pressure on already-strained EDs, and improved testing options in the community were urgently needed to ensure the emergency response is sustainable.

“All governments must look at improving testing and screening options in the community, to divert non-urgent cases from EDs and ensure emergency clinicians are available to provide care for the sick as needed,” said Dr Bonning.

“Options should include having technical assistants or other healthcare professionals; with all necessary safety precautions in place; conduct testing for otherwise well patients, in community facilities separate to hospital emergency departments.

“While we welcome steps being taken to establish specialised respiratory/fever clinics, separate to EDs, as part of the emergency response, we reiterate that these must be appropriately resourced to protect the safety of patients and staff; not only at the facilities, but within our EDs, hospitals and healthcare systems more broadly.

"It is imperative that the right patients go to the right place and EDs cannot be used as default screening clinics. Screening must take place away from EDs, and hospital systems must also be prepared for an increase in coronavirus cases. Significant increases in ICU and in-patient capacity will be needed.

“As health systems continue to respond to the virus threat; and in some cases planning and processes are found wanting; we ask members of the community who do present to emergency departments to please be patient with us. We are doing our best in trying circumstances and are seeking the necessary support from governments and healthcare systems to address system gaps.

“We appreciate that emergency doctors have a vital role to play in the response to COVID-19, alongside everybody else working in our healthcare systems.

“We once again urge all governments to do everything in their power to ensure that the full resources and expertise of our healthcare systems are working in lockstep to meet the current challenges.”


ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards.