Imagine living in an area so remote you couldn’t pop into your local GP’s office when you felt sick. Even when it’s right around the corner, many of us in towns and cities are too busy juggling life to fit in a doctor’s appointment.
For women out on the land in rural Queensland, not having a readily accessible GP is their daily reality. They can’t just call on the day of and quickly pick up a new prescription like suburban folk can – requiring a level of forethought and organisation we can only admire.
And it’s not just about basic health needs. Sometimes a woman just wants to see a female doctor. An experience Queensland’s coastal dwellers have grown to expect as standard but for many ladies living remotely it’s not like that at all.
That’s why in 1994 the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) stepped in, handing a lifeline to women of all ages by establishing its Rural Women’s Health Program.
Female GPs fly in and out of small communities giving patients peace of mind they can raise health issues with someone they feel comfortable with. Jacqueline Noble, an RFDS women’s health nurse and midwife, says women are expected to “just get on with it”.
“There are a lot of pressures on the land with drought and financial issues and there’s little time for female issues,” she said.
“Even if you’re pregnant, you’re expected to just fit in and not be a problem. This is okay if everything is normal but if you’re having a difficult pregnancy you need more support, wherever you live.
“Being able to do bush clinics at isolated stations is really important in providing assistance for women who may feel that they can only confide in another woman and can be reluctant to discuss some issues with male doctors or nurses.”
GPs help patients find precious privacy
Jacqueline has also found some women struggle just to find a spot to talk on the phone out of earshot.
“A lot of places don’t have mobile phone reception. A young woman in the city can just call on her mobile at a time and place where she can have privacy, or she can see her mum or her girlfriends and figure things out,” she said.
“I need to phone after hours when people are back at the homestead to be able to contact them.”
Lauren Jesberg is the RFDS state services manager for Queensland. She says the Rural Women’s Health Program fills a gap.
“There’s a limited female GP workforce in rural and remote areas,” she said.
“Our female GPs in this program provide anything from family planning support, pre-natal care, to pap smears, health checks and general wellbeing. RFDS female GPs will also see family [members] including men and children.”
About 500 women in the outback now use the service every year in dozens of remote communities.
“It has improved health outcomes for many women, picking up many early diagnoses,” Lauren said.
For those of us who have medical centres nearby but fall into the category of finding it hard to keep appointments, House Call Doctor can help. We offer after hours service and have doctors ready to visit to your home in 11 locations across Queensland.