RURAL HEALTH: Rural mums are having to travel just so they can give birth.
RURAL HEALTH: Rural mums are having to travel just so they can give birth. iStock

Health services in rural areas not up to scratch

RURAL mums across Queensland are in need of better services so they can give birth in their home towns.

It's a common situation that mums such as 27-year-old Biloela woman Melinda Brumpton know all too well.

"I'm currently 23 weeks pregnant with my first baby,” she said.

"I'll be giving birth in Rockhampton at the Mater Hospital.

"Last year I had two miscarriages so I was put on to Dr Etherington in Rocky in case there were any fertility issues.”

Melinda has monthly appointments in Rockhampton and requires days off work just so she can attend them.

"Because Biloela is an hour-and-a-half away from Rockhampton we do take the day off work so we can go to our appointments,” she said.

"The only trouble with that is it does eat into our annual leave and I'm trying to bank that up to use when I have the baby.

"But just before I fell pregnant I got my long service leave so I'm really lucky to have that now as well.”

Mrs Brumpton said she and her husband were already making arrangements for her due date.

"We're really lucky we've got friends and family in Rockhampton who have offered to let us stay with them when the time comes,” she said.

"If all goes well and also depending on what our doctor says, we're planning to be staying in Rocky for two or three weeks before the baby comes.”

Mrs Brumpton said she had a back-up plan if things went pear-shaped.

"The thing with babies is they can be unpredictable, they can come early or late,” she said.

"We're starting to try and work out the time off for my husband because he wants to be there and I want him to be there, too.

"The thing is if I'm still in Biloela and the baby decides to start coming at one in the morning, we have to get into the car and just go.”

While she is planning to give birth in Rockhampton, Mrs Brumpton couldn't stress enough the amazing service of the midwives in Biloela.

"This being my first baby I have had times where I have had a few worries and when I've gone to see them, they've been absolutely incredible to deal with,” she said.

"We do have a back-up plan if bub does come earlier than expected.

"We had a chat to the midwife and we've arranged to have a copy of all my records here and if something does happen earlier, but it would be nice to be in Rocky with Dr Etherington because he is who we've been seeing.”

National Rural Health Alliance CEO Mark Diamond said such situations were common across rural and remote parts of Australia.

"Unfortunately this doesn't only happen in obstetrics,” he said.

"We've heard stories of women having to travel over 1000km just to see a specialist, and unfortunately that's just the way it is.

"We want to have an even distribution of generalist trained GPs who have skills in obstetrics, anaesthetics and operations so people aren't having to travel so far just for some services.”

A report released earlier this month revealed funding for rural health research was at critically low levels.

A two-day major symposium was held by the National Rural Health Alliance in Canberra last week where 250 rural health delegates met to discuss rural and remote health.

"This year was the sixth year we've held the symposium and it was by far the most well attended,” he said.

Mr Diamond said funding for health research in rural and remote areas was crucial.

"Between 2005 and 2014 there was between one per cent and 2.4 per cent of total research dollars going to rural and remote areas,” he said.

"Country people experience 20 per cent worse health outcomes than urban counterparts.

"2.4 per cent is just not adequate and it's not acceptable.”

The lack of funding has had an impact on rural and remote communities around the country.

"We get a lot of people saying for example 'I have to go to Rockhampton just to see a specialist because I can't get this service at home',” he said.

"Technology has advanced so much in the past few years through the use of things such as smartphones and tablets, people can now have a one-on-one conversation with a doctor via video.”

Mr Diamond said without the vital funding for health research, such resources would not be available where they were needed.

"We have to demonstrate these resources work and that's where the research comes into it,” he said.

"Alternative ways cannot be considered unless there is evidence that it works and there needs to be sufficient funding for the research and test models to be implemented.

"In saying that, every place is different so they require different needs for certain services, one size doesn't fit all.”

Mr Diamond said the lack of funding for rural, regional and remote Queensland was frustrating.

"We called the symposium our think tank of ideas...but the fact we don't have adequate funding for projects is frustrating,” he said.

"If we had the adequate funding we would be able to fix the issues of timely access to services.

"We wouldn't have to worry about a delayed or misdiagnosis. We can also improve treatments but we can only do that if we have the right research funding.”

When it comes to the figure of how much funding he would like to see, Mr Diamond said he would like to see 20 per cent.

"We've actually been doing research on the topic of funding,” he said.

"If country people are faring 20 per cent worse, I don't see why we shouldn't receive 20 per cent of the funding to be able to do the research and provide the evidence.

"As I mentioned earlier, if we had the adequate research funding would allow us to be able to identify the differences between the medical needs of places out west in Longreach or Emerald.”