Schools-based doctors improving access to healthcare in rural Queensland, community says

In the outback Queensland city of Mount Isa it can take up to three weeks to see a doctor.

There is no bulk billing and prescription medication can cost double the amount you would pay in a city.

If residents need to see a doctor urgently, they must visit the emergency department at the local hospital.

So when a new trial by the Queensland government established a clinic at one of the local public schools, about 1,000 students suddenly had access to free, immediate healthcare.

“Accessibility is a major issue. It’s just so hard to get appointments out here,” said acting principal at Spinifex State College Chris Pocock.

“Now, whether it’s a case of a student feeling sick on the day or being able to access referrals to psychological care, they get immediate access.”

Catching illnesses early and building rapport
Chris Clohesy is the chief medical officer at Gidgee Healing and has been operating the school-based clinic one day per week with the help of a nurse.

He said the biggest benefits were diagnosing illnesses early and building children’s familiarity with the healthcare system.

“It is such a great idea to have health services in schools because we pick up a lot of things that we can manage before they become a chronic illness, especially with mental health stuff because that is often missed early on,” he said.

“Another side to it is learning to build a rapport with your doctor and nurses.

“My role is really trying to develop as much rapport as possible so the kids feel like this is their clinic.

“If they’re confident in the health system as a child, they’re going to keep coming back as an adult,” he said.

For year 7 students like Luke Bartalo and Ella King, having a doctor based on the school grounds means less time out of the classroom.

“Appointments are pretty hard to get out here and when the doctor is at school it makes it a lot easier and you don’t miss out on much class time,” Luke said.

“I’m pretty excited, it’s going to be really good.”

“It makes it so much easier because we won’t have to book in and wait ages to actually get an appointment,” said Ella.

Holistic services based in schools
Mr Pocock said it made more sense to have access to holistic services based on campus, particularly in rural communities with a significant number of low-socio economic families.

“We have 1,000 students. We are a snapshot of our wider society. Whatever problems are occurring out in the community, we are dealing with those at school as well.

“So to have services like a doctor, maybe a psychologist down the track, it makes sense to have those services available hopefully for earlier intervention … it’s a big bonus for us,” he said.

Dr Clohesy said prioritising the health of children had important flow-on effects.

“If we teach our kids to look after themselves and provide good healthcare, for both mental and physical issues, we are setting up our society for a better future,” he said.