The federal government has announced the extension of a national helpline, providing assistance to those seeking medical advice after hours.
The service will now be extended to Victoria – meaning that from March 2012, each state and territory around the country will have access to the advice line.
Health minister Tanya Plibersek believes the service – which has been in operation since July – will be particularly valuable to families during the Christmas holiday period.
According to Ms Plibersek, one-third of the 70,000 calls already received have been from parents of young children aged up to five years, seeking advice on issues like coughs or fevers.
"It would be nice if we only fell ill during business hours, but the reality is that hundreds of thousands of Australians every year are forced to attend hospital emergency departments after hours for health concerns that could be treated by a local GP," she said.
"It's about reducing the unnecessary presentations to emergency departments of hospitals, because we know those emergency departments are already overloaded."
Those looking to avoid public hospital waiting times may benefit from taking out a private health insurance policy.
Not only can waiting lists be reduced, but those with private health insurance also have a choice in the doctor attending to them.