Dreading the distance

Doctors in Fremantle, and the St Patrick’s Community Support Centre, are anxious about the impact that the upcoming closure of the emergency department at Fremantle Hospital will have on disadvantaged people.

The hospital’s emergency department will close on May 7 next year, to be replaced by Fiona Stanley Hospital, 10 kilometres away at Murdoch.

Carmen Quadros, a doctor who practises in Fremantle, said she was worried the distance of travel to Fiona Stanley Hospital would make it hard for underprivileged patients to receive care.

Dr Quadros

“I don’t know what’s going to happen when Freo emergency closes down,” Dr Quadros said.

“It’s not so easy just to pop them in a taxi and send them off to Fiona Stanley.”

Dr Quadros said it would be difficult transporting disadvantaged patients to the new hospital.

She said she has had patients who really needed to go to hospital but could not afford to catch public transport, or were intoxicated and whom authorities would often not let onto public transport.

“Even if they do get there, what happens when they get discharged and they sit there for hours and have to find their own way back and don’t have any money?” she said.

“At least here [in Fremantle] there’s a lot of services for homeless people and they can walk from the emergency department.”

St Patrick’s Community Centre

St Patrick’s Community Support Centre CEO Steve McDermott said closing the Fremantle emergency department, co-payments for general practitioner services and medication, and uncertainty about localised health planning and service delivery could hit his clients hard.

Mr McDermott said if vulnerable patients did not get access to services early it would affect their health and the wider community too.

“As research has repeatedly shown, if these vulnerable members of our society do not address primary health issues early on this can lead to more serious illness and chronic conditions, representing a significant cost burden to the broader community, both in financial and social terms,” he said.

Medicare Local runs the Street Doctor service that caters for marginalised, disadvantaged and homeless people.

St Patrick’s health clinic patient Wally McDonald

Fremantle Medicare Local CEO Christina Riegler said any change to health would always work for some people and not for others.

“Our [Fremantle] Street Doctor [service also] operates in [the Melville suburb of] Willagee,” Ms Riegler said.

“So for [patients at Willagee the hospital] is closer, and our street doctor [also] operates at the Ottey centre [located in South Lake], so for them it is closer to where Fiona Stanley will be as well.”

Ms Reigler said Medicare Local had worked with the state Department of Health and Fiona Stanley Hospital to make sure the needs of disadvantaged patients were well thought through.

Fremantle Hospital’s executive director David Blythe was asked specifically if he was concerned that disadvantaged patients would have problems getting to Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Street Doctor van in Hamilton Hill

Dr Blythe responded in general terms.

“Patients receiving care during the transition periods will be our highest priority and there will be absolute continuity of care,” he said.

Dr Blythe said intoxication and homelessness would still have the necessary care facilities in the city.

He said that although the emergency department was closing down, the hospital would continue to operate.

“Fremantle Hospital and Health Service will become a specialist hospital in 2015 and will provide a broad spectrum of services including mental health, aged care, secondary rehabilitation, some planned surgery and specialist medical services,” he said.

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