A state parliamentary inquiry has heard some rural residents in northern New South Wales are being left “stranded” outside hospitals late at night with no way of getting home.
- A health inquiry has heard that some residents are reluctant to seek emergency medical care for fear of being unable to get home
- Another witness called for more funding for cancer care coordination to stop patients “suffering needlessly”
- The inquiry has also heard about the difficulties arising from the region’s reliance on south-east Queensland for specialist treatment
The NSW Upper House inquiry is examining the challenges people face in seeking medical care in remote, rural and regional areas.
Bonalbo pharmacist Sharon Bird told the inquiry some residents with chronic and complex illnesses are travelling more than 100 kilometres to access health services with virtually no public transport.
She said many residents “give up” on seeing a doctor because “it all gets too difficult”.
“Many of my customers have had negative experiences when accessing healthcare in the referral centres,” Mrs Bird said.
“Like being abandoned in Lismore in their pyjamas after an emergency ambulance trip with no way to get home again.
“[Many] are reluctant to seek help or call an ambulance again.”
Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive Wayne Jones said steps had been taken to ensure such incidents did not happen again.
“Unfortunately we have failed in several of those occasions, but I can tell you it is not the standard of what we have tried to achieve,” he told the inquiry.
“We have put memos out to staff reminding them we’ve increased our own patient transport vehicles locally, we have community transport contracts and we have a clear position that particularly after 8:00pm if people can’t find a way home we need to find accommodation for them.”
Residents need to ‘schedule their accidents’
The inquiry heard the towns of Bonalbo and Coraki had struggled to attract general practitioners, often leaving residents with limited or no access to doctors.
Mrs Bird said Bonalbo had an X-ray machine but no staff to operate it and only one radiographer for two hours a fortnight, so residents would need to “schedule their accidents for that day”.
The chair of the Ballina Cancer Advocacy Network Maureen Fletcher also gave evidence, talking about the dire need for increased funding for cancer care coordinators in the region.
She said many patients had “suffered needlessly” because they did not know what services were available before, during and after cancer treatment.
Ms Fletcher said there was one man who lost half his nose after melanoma surgery and felt socially isolated.
“He only found out that a prosthetic nose was available when a fellow patient in hospital asked why he didn’t have it,” she said.
The inquiry also heard from residents who spoke about the difficulties that arose from the region’s reliance on south-east Queensland for specialist care.
Andre Othenin-Girard said he suffered on and off from atrial fibrillations and had been waiting almost three years to see a cardiologist on the Gold Coast, which was complicated by the Queensland border closure.
He said he had been hospitalised five times at Lismore Base Hospital while he waited.
The committee has been warned that the access to and availability of medical services could deter highly skilled people and businesses from moving to regional NSW.
Regional GP clinics at risk of closure
A South Coast-based doctor is on the brink of closing her practice due to a GP shortage.
Veterinarian Florian Roeber told the hearing he had to make at least 15 trips to the Gold Coast after being diagnosed with a neurological condition.
He said he moved to the state’s north from Melbourne and believed he would have had better access to care if he had stayed in the city.
“I kind of regretted my decision to move to regional NSW because it led to a potentially worse outcome for me,” Dr Roeber said.
“It’s not only me who suffers from that, but also the business that employs me, which has seriously economic impacts not only on the business and myself, but on the state of NSW altogether.
“Specialised businesses can’t attract the required employees to work there.”
Today’s hearing in Lismore is one of 10 being held in regional communities to hear directly from some of the 700 individuals, councils and organisations who lodged submissions.