Five minutes too far: Mums denied health service

UPDATE 5PM: The National Home Doctor Service has conceded demand still outweighs the number of GPs offering the mobile service, but says the situation may get worse before it gets better.

NHDS executive chairman Paul Mirabelle said some rural areas including Mapleton, Maleny, Beerwah, Elimbah and Eumundi, were more difficult to service but did not clarify whether mother Peta Jones' home town of Cooloolabin, near Yandina, was permanently outside of the service area.

Ms Jones' six-year-old daughter was vomiting, crying and had stomach cramps on Saturday but the NHDS hotline attendant told her they could not visit her home, despite advertising the area from Landsborough to Noosa was covered.

"I thought it was really frustrating," Ms Jones said. 

"I thought - servicing Landsborough to Noosa - even if they had to go two minutes out of their way, that they'd do that.

"I was surprised because the service is supposed to take the pressure off the emergency hospital system and it doesn't seem to be working to its best capability." 

There's a risk services will be further reduced by the Federal Government's review of the Medical Benefits Schedule, Mr Mirabelle said.

"Changes have been proposed by some which would see our workforce halved," he said.

He said demands for the home doctor service had grown in recent years.

"Patients see it as an extremely valuable service and government can see that it is a more affordable way of treating patients after hours than in an emergency department," he said.

"Around 70% of patients are seen within three hours and while the service has expanded into most parts of the Sunshine Coast in recent years, some areas do suffer from workforce shortages. It is still the case that 80% of GPs do not do after hours visits nationally."

He said workforce shortages were "a constant challenge".

"We are working hard to increase the number of visits we can do and the areas we cover," he said.

 "It is also important to note that we do not treat emergency cases; these are referred directly to an ambulance or hospital for emergency treatment. We also do not treat matters which are part of ongoing care with your family GP.

"The role of this service is to help people when there is an urgent need for medical care and the regular GP is unavailable in the after-hours period."  


EARLIER: A mother who was denied service by the National Home Doctor Service has sparked a flood of support from Sunshine Coast residents after posting about her experience on the Sunny Coast Community Board.

When her six-year-old daughter became ill on Saturday Peta Jones contacted 13SICK but was told her home, which she said was five minutes from the serviced township of Yandina, was outside of its service area.

She was told: "sorry, we don't come to your area," Ms Jones explained in a post on the public Facebook group's page.

"They boast that they service Caloundra to Noosa," she wrote.

"I am only five minutes outside of Yandina, I don't fit into their zone! So no doctor for my sick girl tonight. If she gets worse we'll head up to the hospital for the long wait.

"Just feeling upset as I hate seeing my little one sick."

Home doctor services are popular on the Sunshine Coast, especially among parents, agreed mother-of-six Amanda Carr, who shared a similar experience to Ms Jones.

Mrs Carr told the Daily she had also experienced trouble seeking service to her home in Cooran, west of Pomona.

She said a home doctor service was advertised at her local doctor's surgery in Pomona, but people living outside the Pomona township couldn't access it.

Mrs Carr said she had tried to enlist the help of three different home doctor services when one of her children had a high temperature a few months ago, but none of them would come to her home.

"My three-year-old had a rash and had a high temperature," she said. "The temperature wasn't going down so I was getting really worried.

"I called the After Hours GP and Home Doctor Sunshine Coast and the 13SICK...and no one comes out to Cooran," she said.

"So we were pretty much told we'd have to go to the hospital which is 30km either way - to Gympie - or Nambour, which is 45km."

Mrs Carr said it was hard to know what to do when you have a sick child after hours, as Queensland Health TV advertisements urge people to only take serious cases to hospital emergency departments.

She ended up calling 13HEALTH for advice, then kept an eye on her son and took him to a GP in the morning.

"It was stressful and frustrating more than anything, because you're not sure if you should go to the hospital - because they're drilling it into you now that you're not to go there unless it's an emergency," she said.

Mrs Carr said if the services were available and reliable, she would use them often.

"I have six children so it's not easy for me to just take them to the hospital with me," she said.

Members of the Sunny Coast Community Board in which Peta Jones posted her story shared examples of being denied service by home doctor services on the Sunshine Coast, while others said they'd had fast service.

Lara Bathe said her four-year-old child was also very sick on Friday night: "I called the home doctors that service our area, to be told that they are booked out."

Melinda Jones said she had seen adverts that promised service across Sunshine Coast and called 13SICK, but was told doctors didn't service her area.

"Just call them and they will be there - what a joke," she wrote. "I live in Yandina and got told no doctors service my area."

Emergency departments at Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service public hospitals don't turn patients away, but the time you wait depends on how busy the ED is and the severity of your symptoms or injury.

The below ED ratings give an indication on which patients would be treated urgently.

Emergency department ratings

Rating 1

Immediately life threatening patients: critical injury or cardiac arrest.

Rating 2

Imminently life threatening patients: critical illness, very severe pain, have serious chest pains, difficulty in breathing or severe fractures.

Rating 3

Potentially life threatened patients: severe illness, bleeding heavily from cuts, have major fractures, dehydrated.

Rating 4

Potentially serious patients: less severe symptoms or injuries, such as foreign body in the eye, sprained ankle, migraine or ear ache.

Rating 5

Less urgent patients: minor illnesses or symptoms, rashes, minor aches and pains.

Source: Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service

The National Home Doctor Service was contacted for comment this morning.

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