PAUL Vernon says he knows firsthand the value of the GP Access After Hours service.
A father of two children, aged seven and 10, he says he and his wife have used it countless times, diagnosing fevers, and getting assistance with the cuts, bruises and burns that come along with raising kids.
‘‘As a parent it gives you that reassurance and support, that you’re getting help from someone that knows what they’re talking about,’’ he said.
But it’s with his own health that the service has been most valuable. A sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome, he often feels cramping and abdominal pain. So when, two years ago, he felt a similar kind of pain, it would have been easy to ignore.
Instead, he called GP Access and described his symptoms.
‘‘They told me what I was describing sounded like appendicitis and to get to an emergency department. So I did, and the next day I actually had my appendix removed; it wasn’t in a good state,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s often quite hard to get into see my regular GP, and the way I was feeling I didn’t really want to sit in the Charlestown Medical Centre for three hours [so] there’s every chance if the after hours service wasn’t there that I would have tried to tough it out, have a day off work and take some paracetamol.’’
After hearing about the service’s uncertain future – on Thursday the Newcastle Herald reported it would be forced to close at the end of June if the federal government doesn’t secure its funding – he was ‘‘alarmed’’, and decided to start a Change.org petition calling on Health Minister Sussan Ley to continue the funding.
‘‘Hopefully it’s something that politicians will pay a bit of attention to if enough people sign it,’’ he said.
‘As a parent it gives you reassurance that you’re getting help from someone that knows what they’re talking about.’- Peter Vernon
On Thursday, Hunter Medicare Local chairman Trent Watson warned that 50,000 patients a year will be forced back into hospital emergency departments if the service wasn’t renewed.
That has prompted fears that the already crowded John Hunter Hospital emergency department could be further overrun by the non-urgent cases that already take up much of their time.
In December last year the Herald reported that only 64 per cent of patients left the John’s emergency department within four hours in a three month period, well below the state target of 81 per cent.
“John Hunter Hospital is already struggling to meet the benchmarks set for the treatment of patients,” Member for Wallsend Sonia Hornery said.
“If those 50,000 patients were forced back into emergency departments we would see a real strain on the already stretched service in the Hunter’s hospitals.’’
Hunter New England Health won’t comment on the service until it’s future is confirmed, a spokeswoman said, adding that emergency departments were ‘‘for people who need immediate medical care for life-threatening or unexpected conditions and doctors and nurses treat the most serious cases first’’.
Ms Ley said Labor Party claims about the closure were ‘‘nothing more than a scare tactic’’, and says her department is working with Hunter Medicare Local to ensure GP Access transitions to the newly established Hunter New England Primary Health Network. She said $98.8million was committed for after-hours services in the budget.
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