Need to see a doctor? Not after 5

WHEN Diane Wheeler called the Moranbah Hospital on Easter Saturday she expected to be able to see a doctor for free; instead she was instructed to pay $80 for an out-of-hours appointment with a local GP.

Ms Wheeler couldn't afford the fee and decided to tough it out, but by Wednesday she was having difficulty breathing and had to borrow money from a friend to pay for an appointment.

Her flu had turned into a serious chest infection and Ms Wheeler said she felt ‘like she was dying'.

Mackay Health Service District chief executive officer Kerry McGovern said it was hospital policy not to offer patients free healthcare out of hours and on public holidays.

“If a patient who presents out of hours is not assessed as an emergency, does not have a life threatening condition or has a manageable condition, they will be given advice by the qualified health staff on duty or provided with the option to return when a doctor is conducting outpatient consultations,” he said.

“Alternatively, patients insisting on seeing a doctor may be referred to a local general practitioner.”

Ms Wheeler doesn't feel this is good enough.

“Not everyone in a mining town can afford to pay those prices,” she said.

“There must be some sort of leeway. It makes me feel it's not fair.

“(The hospital) should at least have doctors see people for free.”

Mr McGovern said it was also common practice in rural facilities within the Mackay Health Service District, that doctors are on call on weekends and are called in to attend to patients triaged as requiring attention by a doctor.

Member for Dalrymple Shane Knuth defended the hospital but criticised the State Government and health minister for the issue.

“The Moranbah area produces around $4 billion in gross revenue and over the years we have seen the continued downward spiral of the Moranbah Hospital while there has been a massive expansion to the region,” he said.

He said the hospital had services, including maternity service, cut to the detriment of the community.

“Now patients are forced to go to private doctors because of the unavailability of these services after hours and on public holidays,” he said.

“The minister denies there is a problem, but this is evidence.”

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