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Question: COVID-19 Helpline Waiting Times

8 February 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a short statement before asking a question of the Minister for Health and Wellbeing regarding COVID-19.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: As the minister would be aware, I, along with thousands of other South Australians, was unfortunate enough to catch the COVID-19 virus during the Christmas holiday period. On one of my days in isolation when I was feeling unwell, I called the COVID helpline provided through text message communication with SA Health to discuss my symptoms. When I rang the number provided and answered a series of prompts, I was told by an automated voice that I was No. 60 in the queue.

Rather than waiting for hours on the phone to speak to a human being, I hung up and arranged a telehealth appointment at my own expense. Of course, many South Australians are not in a position to do that. Can the minister advise what the standard wait time was for people calling the dedicated COVID-19 line over the Christmas period and what the wait time is today?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I make the point to the honourable member that I can't actually advise how long a 60-person queue would take to get through. I wasn't going to assume, like the honourable member did, that that would have been an inordinate amount of time.

The honourable member refers to the period between Christmas and the new year. Coincidentally, that period on 31 December was the first time active cases went over 10,000, in fact almost 11,000 active cases on New Year's Eve. It had only for the first time gone over a thousand active cases on 22 December, when there were 1,214. In the space of about 12 days, we had roughly a nine or tenfold increase in the number of cases.

I certainly regret that the honourable member found that the service was not prompt enough for him, but what I would remind the honourable member is that during that period we had hundreds of SA Health team members giving up their Christmas, their new year, to rapidly escalate a support network which has supported thousands of people during the pandemic. I think I saw a figure earlier today that suggested that since the borders were opened on 23 November, we had 115,000 cases in South Australia, so that has been a massive effort from the SA Health network to respond to the care needs of South Australians with COVID-19. I can't immediately identify the wait time for what I think would be the COVID Response Care Team, not the COVID-19 Information Line or the COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, but I do have current figures for those two lines. In relation to the SA COVID-19 Information Line—1800 253 787—the average wait time is 11 seconds and the average talk time is three minutes 25 seconds.

In relation to the SA COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, which is 1800 632 753, the average wait time is 19 seconds and the average call duration is 20 minutes.


The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: can the minister provide the wait time for the information line that I and others suffering with COVID-19 would have been referred to—that is the line that provides medical assistance—and if the minister doesn't think that 60 callers in a queue is a long period of time to wait, how long does he think South Australians should wait on a line before they receive medical assistance when dealing with a potentially deadly virus?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): Let me clarify: I wasn't reflecting on the honourable member in the sense of his view that he wasn't getting an adequate service. I was just raising the point that, with a large call centre, 60 calls could be gone through quite quickly. Certainly, in response to the honourable member's direct question, I will certainly perhaps get indicative wait times over the period.