As many Perth residents settle in for an evening at home most nights of the week, a team of doctors prepares for an evening out, providing free medical treatment and advice from a custom-built truck to the homeless and marginalised across Perth, Midland a
As many Perth residents settle in for an evening at home most nights of the week, a team of doctors prepares for an evening out, providing free medical treatment and advice from a custom-built truck to the homeless and marginalised across Perth, Midland and Fremantle.
Under the program, called StreetDoctor, the general practitioners, a team of registered nurses, and outreach and health promotion workers drive to parks, hostels and soup kitchens to help the thousands of people across the Perth metropolitan area with irregular access to medical care.
Visiting the city and Midland for up to 42 hours each week, the Perth StreetDoctor service is run by the Perth and Hills Division of General Practice and funded primarily by the Department of Health.
A second StreetDoctor service operates around Fremantle and is run independently by the Fremantle Regional Division of General Practice.
StreetDoctor was launched in Perth in June 2001 by Dr Noel Plumley, and is now the first accredited mobile service in Australia.
The idea came to Dr Plumley in 2000 after a drive through the city, during which he saw groups of homeless people and wondered how many, if any, were receiving primary health care.
After securing funding and support from a team of doctors and nurses, around $100,000 was spent creating the division’s first medically equipped module featuring two self-contained apartments for general practice and counselling services fitted on to a light truck chassis.
Perth and Hills division deputy chief executive Shauna Gaebler said the service was extremely successful and innovative, attracting good support from within the health community.
StreetDoctor staff are paid by the division and often work irregular hours to maintain a presence in needy areas.
“We have a very committed core group of seven GPs, nurses, outreach workers and health promotion workers who really enjoy what they do and find it very rewarding,” Ms Gaebler said.
“The after-hours component of the service is difficult, it’s certainly not a nine-to-five job.”
StreetDoctor clients can access all the services provided from a regular GP’s office, with or without a medicare card, including wound dressing, minor suturing, blood screening, vaccinations, harm reduction interventions, and prescriptions for medication.
GPs liaise with support staff to help clients access appropriate counselling services and make informed decisions about their health. All clients are registered and their files managed via an on-board database.
Along with StreetDoctor, the organisation also provides primary health care for at-risk youth from a purpose-built bus called the Mobile Access Centre.
The bus has been running since July 2000 and targets adolescents aged between 12 and 24 years in schools and inner-city areas.
Ms Gaebler said it was frustrating not being able to meet the demand for its services, which was particularly acute in lower socio-economic areas across the east and south-eastern metropolitan regions of Perth.
“There is an unending need for our service because so many people don’t fit into the [mainstream] system. At the moment we are can only help those whose needs are most urgent,” she said.
The division is currently seeking private funding to replace its aging StreetDoctor vehicle, and hopes in future to expand its reach throughout Perth with a second mobile medical unit.
Seeking a similar outcome to Perth is the Freo StreetDoctor, which works four evenings per week from Pioneer Park, St Patrick’s Community Centre, and the Fremantle Police and Citizens Youth Club in Hilton.
Freo StreetDoctor coordinator Danielle McGrath said the Fremantle division bought its own medical unit in September 2006, after sharing the unit of the Perth and Hills division and hoped to expand into the Cockburn region, which was experiencing a shortage of GPs.