Samuel Shooter had no symptoms when he went to see his GP, but he “had a feeling” something was wrong.
- A new report highlights disparities in healthcare access in regional Australian towns
- It calls for more targeted investment in health funding
- GPs are increasingly taking on the burden of bridging the gap in rural and regional towns
A family history of heart disease and type 2 diabetes meant the GP took the feeling seriously.
After a scan, the Dubbo-based real estate agent got the news it looked like he had a major blockage in his heart.
His GP referred him to a cardiologist, who was baffled by how well Mr Shooter looked.
He said Mr Shooter could medicate or get an angiogram for a more accurate picture.
Mr Shooter said he asked his cardiologist, “I want to live. I’m 40, I have a wife and kids. What would you do?”
Six days later during the angiogram, Mr Shooter heard the medical team gasp at his results and he was immediately rushed to critical care at Dubbo Hospital.
The next day he was sent to Orange Hospital, more than 150 kilometres away, for emergency surgery.
“I went from the back of the ambulance straight onto the theatre table. Everyone was kitted up ready to go,” he said.
He received a 28-millimetre stent in his left anterior artery that was 95 per cent blocked.
If Mr Shooter had not had those tests when he did, he may not have survived.
“The surgeon came and put his hand on my shoulder and said you should have been very, very dead,” Mr Shooter said
“People who are alive with your kind of heart can’t walk.”
Gaps in regional healthcare
A report released on Thursday by not-for-profit Westfund Health Insurance has highlighted access to preventative care.
The private health insurer analysed 66,000 claims over a seven-year period from eight regional towns – six in NSW, including Dubbo, Bathurst, Orange, Mudgee, Lithgow and Wollongong, and two in Queensland, Townsville and Mackay.
It found geography significantly impacted access to care, and thereby, health outcomes.
It also offered insight into where those gaps were and suggested that more targeted investment of health dollars was needed.
“There is a significant gap in regional Australia for access to allied health services,” Westfund chief executive Mark Genovese said.
“What the report has allowed us to do is to be much more prescriptive and better targeted in terms of coming up with solutions.”
Of the eight regional towns, Dubbo emerged with the highest treatment prevalence for heart disease, including valve disorders and heart attacks.
Mr Genovese said that signalled where work could be done around early intervention and education.
Australia’s Department of Health estimates in its National Preventative Health Strategy 2021-2030 that avoidable hospital admissions for chronic health conditions cost $320 million each year.
Burden on rural doctors
Rural Doctors Association of Australia chief Peta Rutherford said the report also pointed to the where GPs working in rural areas needed support.
“It’s a good demonstration that not all regional communities have the same issues,” she said.
“They have issues around access, but often there’s some specific services which impact on different regional towns.”
Ms Rutherford said allied and ancillary health services should be considered in the federal government’s independent scope of practice review to redesign primary care, as those services impacted the work of GPs.
“What we see is rural GPs and their practice staff taking on much more responsibility and doing holistic care for their patients in an effort to meet that gap,” she said.
“That means longer consultations and a limited number GPs available.
“We will try to bridge that gap but there’s only so many hours in a day.”
Get our local newsletter, delivered free each Friday
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-11-02/westfund-health-insurance-rural-regional-access-care-funding/103055338 Heart tests save Dubbo man’s life as Westfund Health Insurance releases rural access report