TURNED AWAY: Health debacle forces couple to leave town
A BLOOMSBURY couple has been caught up in a referral nightmare because of a shortage of urologists at Mackay Base Hospital.
The shocking debacle has prompted a respected Proserpine GP to call for the hospital to reinstate a permanent urologist and for an overhaul of the referral system.
Vera and Don Lade have been forced to pack up their life and move to Townsville after Mr Lade was diagnosed with prostate cancer last month.
Mr Lade requires treatment from a urologist - a specialist surgeon who treats problems of the kidneys, bladder, urethra and adrenal glands, as well as prostate and testicular cancer.
But soon after he was diagnosed, the Lades said they were told there was no urologist to treat them at the Mackay hospital and he would have to be referred to Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital for treatment.
The Base hospital's permanent urologist is on emergent leave and it is in the process of trying to recruit another.
Despite being only a three-hour drive from Townsville, the couple was told they did not live within the catchment area to be treated there.
"We decided to consult a doctor in Townsville and we're moving up to Townsville so my husband can have treatment, which starts on the 19th of this month," Mrs Lade said.
Instead of taking a break over the Christmas period, the couple will be moving in with family and adjusting to life in a new town.
"It's had a big impact on us. We're on a property and we have got to leave and just come home monthly to see that everything is going all right," Mrs Lade said.
"My husband is born and bred here. He's got his whole family here."
Proserpine GP Dr Paul Joice said he was "disgusted" by the situation, which has left some of his patients waiting for treatment.
"For people with malignancies, you want to get them seen in a reasonably efficient time frame," he said.
"We've been told there are only going to be locum (temporary) urologists coming through Mackay and our patients won't get seen.
"We've been told it will probably be some time next year before they can get looked at."
Dr Joice said the next best option for his patients was to be treated by a urologist in Townsville, as most were elderly and did not have any family in Brisbane.
But when he referred his last patient to Townsville, he said the Townsville Hospital and Health Service refused to accept them because they lived outside the catchment area.
Dr Joice said he believed the response was a case of "bureaucrats protecting their budgets".
"We are all Queenslanders, we all pay our taxes and we all have a right to be seen and treated. Townsville is the next closest place for our patients to be seen," he said.
"I just think it's disgusting that they can refuse to see a patient."
Shadow health minister Ros Bates said she was "appalled" by how the Lades had been treated.
"Queenslanders deserve a world-class public health system no matter where they live," Ms Bates said.
Dr Joice wants to see a permanent urologist in place at Mackay hospital again and for patients in the region to have access to a urologist in Townsville.
Health Minister Steven Miles said the hospital had employed a locum urologist in the meantime.
"All patients will be treated - no one is ever turned away," Mr Miles said.
"Some urology patients may need to travel to Brisbane for treatment but this is not permanent and they are eligible for travel subsides."