2019-11-03 by W.M.
Western Australian town fears ‘life-threatening’ decline in health services
Leeman resident Albert Walker worries about the impact of staff changes at his local health service. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
Albert Walker is fighting against the downgrading of his local health service in regional Western Australia — the same service which saved his life last year.
- Medical provider Silver Chain is downgrading the full-time nurse practitioner position with a part-time registered nurse at its Leeman Health Centre
- The centre is the only source of medical help for the region’s 600 residents
- Residents are outraged and State MP Shane Love is taking their petition to Parliament
When Mr Walker collapsed in his Leeman home, 260 kilometres north of Perth, volunteer ambulance officers rushed him to the Leeman Health Centre.
“My lungs stopped, I had stopped breathing,” he said.
“My heart stopped and they raced me to Silver Chain [health service], the nurse practitioner was there.
“She started to give them instructions and was ready to put the defibrillator on me … she was ready to hit the button but I started to come back to life.”
The nurse practitioner who saved Mr Walker’s life is leaving the role on Friday.
She is the sole nurse at the centre which is also the only medical service for about 600 residents in the Leeman and Green Head communities.
Silver Chain, which is contracted by the State Government to run the health centre, has advertised for a part-time registered nurse as the replacement — a downgrade to the current nurse practitioner position.
Outraged locals lobby for change
The decision has outraged residents at Leeman and nearby Green Head and many have signed a petition asking for a full-time nurse practitioner to be hired.
More than 100 residents attended a meeting on Monday where they expressed concerns that they will not receive the same standard of health care.
Representatives from Silver Chain and the WA Department of Health were invited to the community meeting, but did not attend.
Mr Walker said the reduced care could be life-threatening.
“Without her being there [last year], I would have died.”
Residents sign a petition calling for a nurse practitioner to be positioned in Leeman full time. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
The nearest medical emergency service is about 50 kilometres away at Jurien Bay.
“If they tried to race me say from Leeman to Jurien Bay … I would have been dead on the way,” Mr Walker said.
“As far as I’m concerned this is totally wrong, it is basically immoral and they are letting this town — or the two towns — down completely.”
Green Head resident Sue Fowler said her biggest concern was that emergency medical procedures could be delayed.
“I think if we had a heart attack, we would probably die,” she said.
“We have a limited number of ambulance volunteers, they do their very best — a wonderful job — but if they have nobody in Leeman, it is a long way to Jurien or even Geraldton and Dongara.”
Nurse practitioner, registered nurse — what’s the difference?
Silver Chain is contracted to run the Leeman Health Centre which services a community of about 600 people in regional WA. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
A nurse practitioner is an experienced registered nurse who has been endorsed by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.
The practitioner usually has a masters degree and can offer more services than a registered nurse including: Direct referrals of patients to other healthcare professionals; medication prescriptions; and ordering diagnostic investigations.
Having a nurse with those qualifications in a town like Leeman — where the median age is 52 — means residents don’t have to travel 45 minutes for basic prescriptions and check-ups.
Coorow Shire President Moira Girando said given the community’s ageing population, healthcare should be a priority.
“The advertisement is obviously to a lesser service,” she said.
“That just speaks to a lack of respect for this community.”
MLA Shane Love and Moira Girando say the change could impact the volunteer ambulance service. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
Calls to re-examine contract
The Member for Moore, Shane Love, will take the community’s petition to Parliament.
He said he was also concerned that the apparent decrease in services could impact the town’s volunteer ambulance service.
“Needing to take people to Jurien Bay, that extra 45 minutes can be the difference in some cases between a good outcome and a bad outcome,” he said.
“It could be life or death in having that service available locally.”
Mr Love said the community expected, and deserved better.
“The State Government needs to re-examine the scope of the contract with Silver Chain to ensure that it includes the type of services people need here, specifically a nurse practitioner,” he said.
“We need improved health services, not decreased health services in Leeman and Green Head.”
In a statement to the Shire of Coorow, which was shared with the ABC, Silver Chain said its contract with the Government only required a registered nurse, not a practitioner at the centre.
It said the time allocated for the position was 69 hours a fortnight, making it a part-time role.
According to the statement, weekend on-call services would not change but what, if any, impact for on-call weekday services was unclear.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said Silver Chain was contracted by the department to provide a Remote Area Nurse (a registered nurse) at Leeman’s Remote Area Nursing Post.
She said since mid-2016 Silver Chain had provided the services of a Nurse Practitioner because they could not find a suitable Registered Nurse to fill the post.
She said the same access to on call nursing care would be provided and from November 1 the Leeman Remote Area Nursing Post would be open from 9am – 4.30pm, Monday to Thursday and every alternate Friday.
After normal operating hours, Health Direct would provide telephone triage for care requests which may include response by the on call nurse at Leeman, depending on the level of care required.