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Health in crisis

By Staff Writer Matt Owen

Bribie Island is a unique location and not just for the outlook. We have the oldest median population age in Queensland at 59 years of age (2016 Census). This is significantly higher than the Queensland median of 37. Over 40% of the population is over 65 years of age. Again, significantly higher than the Queensland equivalent at 15.2%.

The above figures mean that health is even more important to this local community. As you get older, you rely more on the health system, right? Falls, heart attacks and general health issues are more common as we age. Surely a population with nearly triple the number of residents over 65 should be a unique case. I’m not saying any life is more important than another.

The distance from Woorim to Caboolture Hospital is 29km (31 minutes). This is not taking into account traffic and/or roadworks and/or ambulance wait times and/or waiting time at the hospital where 34% of patients wait in an ambulance (ramping) (with the ambulance staff) for more than 30 minutes. It is possible that it could take 1.5hrs to get into the hospital and very likely longer. Now, responsibility.

Local Doctors. We have been informed that local doctor surgeries are not accepting new patients or have a mandatory wait time for new patients. Some new residents are driving one hour or more back to their previous address to see their old Doctor. Other new residents are making an excuse for appointment 2 weeks in advance to ‘get on the books’.

Nobody is blaming the Doctors, Nurses, Ambulance Staff or Hospital Workers. Let us be clear on that. They are being placed under immense stress and the outcome could well be they leave the health workforce.

Health is a responsibility of State and Federal Governments. State is responsible for hospitals and ambulances and Federal is responsible for GP’s and Medicare.

What is actually happening?

  • ‘New’ patients are being turned away from Doctors or having to wait a 2 week (or other time frame) period

  • Excessive ambulance wait times

  • Ambulances waiting at hospitals (patients and ambulance staff)

  • Patients leaving hospital too early due to bed shortages

  • Emotional and physical strain on health staff

  • Government initiatives taking too long/stalling

  • No short-term solutions

  • Lack of accountability and responsibility

What do our elected leaders and representatives say?

Longman Federal Member Terry Young, September 3, 2020

“The Australian Government is investing $500,000 to deliver the much-needed service which will be rolled out in January 2021.

“For years, residents on the island have been calling for better access to medical services and I am delighted to announce this trial program,” Member for Longman Terry Young said. Currently, Bribie Island locals don’t have an established after-hours health care service available through their GPs or medical deputising arrangements. With this investment, patients won’t have to travel 20km to Caboolture Hospital for care outside normal office hours but will have access to a GP right here on Bribie Island.”

The Government will provide $500,000 to the Brisbane North Primary Health Network to co-design and develop the service with input from stakeholders. The local provider will be determined through a tender process.

Ensuring all Australians have access to safe, quality, and accessible health care is an Australian Government priority.

We will continue to work with our GPs, specialists and consumers to improve the delivery of care.

As part of the Government’s Long Term National Health Plan, our Primary Health Care 10-Year Plan will set a vision and path to guide future primary health care reform. This is in addition to our broader health care reform agenda to make the health system more person-centred, integrated, efficient and equitable for all Australians no matter where they live.

Longman Federal Member Terry Young, April 27, 2021

“I’m aware of the problems people on Bribie Island are having to see a GP and frankly it is not acceptable. This is why I fought hard to get funding for an after-hours medical service on the island and in September last year, was successful in securing $500,000 of federal funding for a three-year trial.

The information I had from the Health Department at that time was that the service would roll out in January, 2021.

Now I learn that the contract between the department and PHN Brisbane North, who is overseeing its delivery, wasn’t signed until January. The PHN is working through the tender process thoroughly to ensure the best outcome for the community is achieved.

I am frustrated that it is taking longer than I was originally informed, however I am pleased we are now at the end of the process and it should be a reality in July this year.

Once up and running, the after hours service should help alleviate some of the issues around seeing a GP.

Pumicestone State Member, Ali King, April 12, 2021

“I am so excited that Bribie especially will finally have free public hospital services right here in our community. For Caboolture, the Satellite Hospital means more health services in the community and less pressure on Caboolture Hospital. The Palaszczuk Government’s commitment is that our Satellite Hospitals will be built by 2023. $1.6 million was budgeted for planning, including site selection and engagement this financial year. That work is happening now.

$35 million is budgeted for each Satellite Hospital and together they will create over 200 construction jobs. I have been working closely with the Department and the Health Minister to make sure the Hospitals are moving forward. Building hospitals takes a lot of steps and I understand it’s frustrating that there’s not a lot to see in the early stages. At every meeting and in every phone call I am advocating strongly to make sure our Satellite Hospitals deliver what our community needs. It’s my number one priority.”

Queensland Health Minister, Yvette D’Ath, April 27, 2021

“Medical staff are “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” as Queensland doesn’t have enough hospital beds to cope with “unsustainable” demand and that nothing will be solved without major reforms.”

Shadow Health Minister, Ros Bates, April 27, 2021

“Queensland Health has had a cardiac arrest and is on life support. It has taken two Health Minister’s under Annastacia Palaszczuk to break our health system. We’ve had denial after denial. The Health Minister has blamed patients for going to hospital, blamed ambulances for ramping and blamed hospitals going into code yellow. The culture is rotten in Queensland Health and our frontline staff need more help. In the space of a few days we’ve had the Health Minister say its seasonal demand but now she’s changed her tune completely.”

The Community

The common theme in our communications with local residents is that they can’t get an appointment with a Doctor as a new patient. Since when is it ok to turn patients away? This should not be an option. Surely you should not be turning patients away?

As you talk with more people and dig deeper you hear the stories that are beyond just a visit to a GP. Waiting for ambulances, waiting in ambulances, ambulances coming from the Sunshine Coast, being sent home in extreme pain, surgery waiting periods and the list just goes on and on.

One particular story is of a local 61 year old female who had a fall at home. Unfortunately, the fall led to 3 fractures and other injuries. She was discharged from the hospital after only 5hrs, given 8 tablets and she wasn’t even sure where she was! There was no communication with her husband. After going home the local GP didn’t accept the appointment as she was a new resident so in the car for nearly an hour drive back to the old Doctor. This all happened only a few weeks ago and is only one example of what is going on in our hospitals. This is just a snapshot of what is going on, in the local community and across the state.

So, what is the problem?

  1. We had a hospital announced as possibly the turning point of the State Election. This was in October 2020, 6 months ago. What is there to show for it at this stage? Nothing. No land and no strategy. For it to be our State Members number 1 priority and for there to be nothing tangible after six months? Hopefully there is more to show in the next 6 months. While the press release is fluffy, there is no substance, no hard actions and tangible outcomes. How long does it take to secure land?

  2. The after-hours GP service. This was announced in September 2020. Again, here we are with tenders closing in May. Will it be 12 months before this gets off the ground?

  3. The response from Brisbane North PHN didn’t address our questions directly around the number of appointments expected from the after-hours GP service, the difficulty in making appointments and the delay in the program to date. You can read their response online. If you would like to see the questions we asked of them let us know via email.

  4. A total lack of short-term out of the box solutions. These processes have 6 months of planning and ‘community engagement’ but it seems the short-term solutions are ignored. Not enough Doctors? A temporary hospital? Cultural changes to our health services? Medical students? Overseas doctors? Bring back retired Doctors? What about a naval hospital ship? Immediate after-hours service in existing surgeries? Increased promotion of telephone health services? Private investment, is that being encouraged?

What do you think? Some people will just accept it and say it is the way that it is and it is worse in other places who have hospitals further away. They might reference other countries and say we are lucky. These people probably think our roads are great and that crime isn’t a problem as well…

Others will say it is not the Australian way. Access to health care is a right. You should not be turned away from medical care. We are also now paying more in private health cover and bulk billing seems to be disappearing. It is probably fair to say that our health system in Queensland is in crisis and critical NOW, we need urgent short term solutions. Transparency and communication from our leaders is more important now than ever for the benefit of their communities, keep us updated. There is plenty of growth in Queensland and people are flocking here in droves. The State Government needs a plan for the growth in this state in so many area’s and health should of been at the top of the list.

So, there you have it folks. Sounds like we are past the stage of denial from the State Government, the tender process is underway for the after-hours GP service that will be months behind the original time frame so there is some light at the end of the tunnel. It is just a pity that the tunnel was so painful for so many. What is the lesson learnt? As a community are we are too passive? Should we be putting more pressure and accountability on the elected leaders? Something is missing. It shouldn’t get to this point.

There is nothing more important than our health.

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