Close the accommodation gap for country patients

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Today’s post is by Dr Linda Samera of the NSW North Coast. A severe case of Sjogren’s Syndrome means Dr Samera has to travel to Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney every month for treatment.

The closure of the cheap and wheelchair-friendly accommodation where she used to stay has prompted Dr Samera to start a petition on GetUp. She wants to put pressure on the state government to provide country patients with affordable accommodation when they have to come to the city for treatment.

For years, she and her husband Rod stayed at Blue Gum Lodge in Sydney – ‘for country people only’. But the Lodge has closed, leaving the Sameras with nowhere to stay. Here is Linda’s story.

I have an autoimmune disease that requires me to travel more than 500km to Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital every month where I spend one week receiving medical treatment.

Dr Linda Samera – ready to travel.

Up until now, my husband and I stayed at Blue Gum Lodge, which was wheelchair-friendly, close to the hospital and allowed us to cook our own healthy and affordable meals. But Blue Gum Lodge closed on 31 January 2014. Sadly, it’s not the first time this has happened. Prince of Wales Hospital and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital have also closed their country patient accommodation in the past few years. One by one, major hospitals in NSW are closing their essential accommodation for country patients.

NSW regional and rural patients suffering from serious illnesses, like me, are often forced to spend days or months living away from home in order to receive the life-saving treatment we need. It is imperative that all major hospitals in NSW have affordable and accessible on-site or nearby patient accommodation for people travelling from the country to receive medical care.

Will you join me in calling on NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner to provide affordable and accessible hospital accommodation for country patients?

Click here to sign and share the petition.

In my career as a remote area general practitioner I’ve seen patients turn down treatment because they couldn’t afford accommodation in the city. I’ve also seen families financially destroyed by huge bills resulting from long stays in the city for life-saving treatment.

Dr Samera.

All of us living in the country are vulnerable because many treatments for diseases and injuries are only available at city hospitals. The NSW government needs to make health care fair and equitable by providing affordable and accessible accommodation near to every major hospital.

The divide between the health of rural and city Australians has been well documented. But there shouldn’t be any second-class citizens when it comes to health care in NSW and no patient should have to put up with second-rate health care because they live outside a major city.

Providing accommodation that is affordable and accessible is the first step to closing that gap. Will you join me in asking NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner to provide affordable and accessible hospital accommodation for country patients? Click here to sign and share the petition. Thanks for taking action.

Previously on Nurse Uncut: Last year nurses gathered at the National Party Conference in Bathurst to raise awareness of the need for more nurses in rural areas. Watch a short video where nurses meet their MPs to press home the argument that country people deserve the same level of care as people in the cities.

Still in Bathurst: this rural community protested against local cuts to nursing staff in December 2013. Watch a video of the community forum and nurses’ strike.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry to read of this. Another international issue. Here in the UK we call it the “postcode lottery”. Care determined by area you live in; many have to take long journeys also, to city hospitals. “Second-rate” seems to be the underlying theme.

  2. Email from Linda Samera:
    Dear Supporters,
    Last Monday I had the privilege of meeting with the General Manager (GM) of Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) Sue Shilbury, and the Divisional Manager of Allied Health, Frances Tolliday, to discuss accommodation. I would like to share with you the outcomes from that meeting as they are very important.
    I travel to Sydney for treatment one week out of every four. Until now I have had the stressful job of negotiating with RNSH to subsidise accommodation every month. They have not been easy to negotiate with on this.
    At the meeting the GM gave me her word that RNSH would subsidise my accommodation each month until the end of this year. This is a big win as it removes the stress of having to lobby for accommodation for myself each month. This also sets a precedent for others who are not able to afford accommodation when referred to RNSH for healthcare. This does not, however, solve the long-term problem of the lack of onsite accommodation at RNSH.
    During the meeting the GM admitted that she had known about the date of closure of Blue Gum Lodge 6mths before it happened. She also said that plans had been drawn up for “some” onsite country patient accommodation in the last few years. At the last minute another group was given the site and the plans for accommodation were scrapped. This is important to note.
    The intermediate plan for onsite accommodation involves the “Douglas Building” at RNSH. This building will become available in December 2014 when the current occupants move to a new building (currently under construction). Ms Shilbury mentioned however that there are other groups vying for this site and no plans have been drawn up for patient accommodation in this building. This is not good enough. There are still no guarantee that the site will not be taken by someone else as what happened last time.
    The long-term plans are even more fluid. To date there is no site marked for long-term country patient accommodation. There is therefore no plans drawn up. One possible site was mentioned but there are several contenders for it. Also, Ms Shilbury could not tell me how many beds it would be. She claims there is no way to find out how many will be needed despite the fact that Social Work and the Cancer Council have this data. She would not be moved on this claim. Instead the GM has decided to ask the Social Work department to log how many people need accommodation in the next 2mths. This is a grossly inadequate method for determining the need for accommodation as not everyone speaks with the Social Work department about their need.
    Sue Shilbury and Frances Tolliday gave me their word that country patient accommodation is a top priority for RNSH. However, I am not convinced. There is no commitment to planning and building accommodation or to really finding out how many people need accommodation each week. There is still many barriers in place to stop people accessing subsidised accommodation in the interim and no understanding of the importance of removing these barriers. The bottom line is that the GM of RNSH does not believe that country patient accommodation is important or her responsibility. She has agreed to personally keep me informed of the progress with the long-term plans for onsite, purpose-built patient accommodation. I hope she keeps to her word on this as I believe we have a long way to go in progressing plans. I will keep you all informed of any progress.
    In the meantime we need to continue to put pressure on the major hospitals in Sydney and on the State Government to provide onsite affordable accommodation for country people. We need a fair go on this issue. If you are travelling to RNSH for your healthcare please contact the social work department and let them know. If you cannot afford to pay for accommodation please tell the Social Work Department so they can secure funding for you. Sue Shilbury gave me her word that no one will be turned away if they need accommodation subsidised by RNSH. We need to take her on her word. No one should have to go into debt over accommodation just to get the treatment that is their right to have. Also please consider writing to Sue Shilbury about the lack of accommodation and how this affects you. She needs to hear from those it is disadvantaging.
    Thank you so much for your ongoing support. This meeting was an important step in this campaign. We now know where we stand with RNSH! We will continue to lobby for accommodation at all tertiary hospitals in NSW. Keep up the good work!
    Social Work Department: 02 94629477
    General Manager (Ms Sue Shilbury): sue.shilbury@health.nsw.gov.au

    Kind regards,
    Linda Samera

  3. Another update from Linda Samera:
    Despite our best efforts, country patients are still out ion the cold. The NSW Government has yet to take steps to ensure country patients have accessible and affordable accommodation at all major hospitals in NSW
    During my meeting with Sue Shilbury (General Manager of Royal North Shore Hospital), it was pointed out that there is no data on the experience of patients who have to travel and stay near a major hospital to receive healthcare. This data is not kept by NSW Health.
    Knowing core specifics about how many people require accommodation and for how long, would be invaluable evidence to take to decision makers who want figures and facts before they act to fix the problem. We also want to tell the stories of the people who have been affected by the closure of patient accommodation.
    Each of you has some experience of the lack of accommodation near a major hospital and your stories can help make an emotional connection with decision makers and persuade them to fix the problem.
    We have put together a survey to collect the facts that tell us how big this problem is and tell the stories of the people it’s affected. Can you take ten minutes now to complete a survey on your experience with country patient accommodation?
    Click here to take the survey.
    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1zylHMDGFR5Tpf8WUB94yLnxNt1qgaRw-sysjiBeQvqM/viewform
    Your story could be a personal experience or thatof a family member, friend, or a patient you have known. Every story counts and will help create a strong argument for the need for this accommodation at all NSW major hospitals. Your survey answers will form the largest and only data source on this problem in NSW. It will also strengthen this petition as your stories are a powerful tool in communicating a clear message to decision makers in NSW.
    Many of you have already heard my own story. I was a remote area GP and saw first hand my patients choosing not to get treatment or struggling with crippling debts from travelling to major hospitals to receive healthcare. Later as a patient myself requiring regular treatment in Sydney more than 500km from home, I was forced to make the same difficult decision when Blue Gum Lodge closed. But my decision to share my own story has already led to thousands of people across NSW signing my Community Run Petition and writing to the Minister.
    We all have a story worth sharing. Can you take ten minutes now to complete this survey and tell me about your own experiences? I invite you to be a part of the building of this first and only resource and a valuable tool in this campaign.
    Thank you so much for taking this time. I deeply appreciate your support and know there are many more people out there who appreciate all that is being done to see this problem turned around.
    Thanks again!
    Linda Samera

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