Health services

Not surprisingly, most people had something to say about the health services provided to them. Many people’s comments included praise for the services available and the professionals involved in their care. The people who received home services were particularly grateful for that level of attention and those who did not rued the loss. Fred said that he had seen many doctors and specialists and was “very, very impressed by their manners and their methods” and how they treated him.

Katherine has nothing but praise for any health service she has ever encountered.

Dot is very pleased with the health services in her area.

The hospital in the home is a great service, says Lorna.

Charles thinks attitude and expectation are important and cannot speak more highly of his experiences with his local GP and hospital.

Some people, however, had unsatisfactory experiences. Paradoxically, several people who had bad experiences or were the victims of system errors were very forgiving and still spoke highly of their carers, especially nurses who they thought had far too much work to do.

The intensive care nurses were “lovely” but Shirley had to take on some of Brian H’s care in hospital because they were too busy.

Lois says that the people at the hospital are very kind even though she sat in outpatients all day because of a wrong appointment.

One issue that received attention was that of making appointments to see doctors, especially general practitioners (GPs). Although people mostly managed to get appointments when they needed them, they often had to see a different doctor and this had an impact on the relationship between them and their doctor and their continuity of care.

Getting an appointment with her doctor is difficult for Val.

Helen B is infuriated that it is impossible to get an appointment with her doctor. Because her condition is not serious she worries about taking an urgent appointment ahead of someone in greater need.

Robyn thinks that it takes time and “a fair bit of trust” to build a relationship with a doctor.

Several people spoke very strongly about needing to be treated as an individual not an age-specific condition. Some people did not like being patronised while others liked being fussed over. The important thing, they said, was to be “treated as a person first”. Communication between various health professionals and between them and their patients could be improved if the patient’s needs were paramount, they said.

Marlene makes a plea for people to be treated as competent individuals.

Austin loves being fussed over by the nurses at the private hospital.

Brian H thinks that communication between health professionals, carers and patients could be improved.

A few people were confused over their condition and treatment, in spite of taking notes during a consultation. Barrie could not even pronounce what the doctor called his condition. Taking someone with them to appointments was welcomed by some people but not by those who found the suggestion insulting. Dorothy said that the doctor used to be “second in line to God” but not anymore. Some people said that doctors today explain everything; others said that their doctor did not explain things fully enough so they took responsibility for finding their own information from the internet, other health professionals or alternative medicine practitioners.

Elaine H takes someone with her to the doctor because she forgets most of what is said to her.

Jack is confused about whether or not he is to have an operation.

Attitudes towards health insurance and private versus public hospitals varied. Sabihe, for example, said that she would never go near a private hospital again because they are a “racket”, while Lorna said that she would “rather go without a meal than not pay that private health”. Kaye said that private health cover was very expensive but she could not afford not to have it.

Waiting lists for treatment in a public hospital are a problem for Earl so he “goes private”.

Several people spoke about issues around the provision of health and aged care services in rural and remote areas. On the one hand, people sometimes had to travel very long distances from smaller towns and cities to metropolitan centres for care or treatment and this often left them without the support of family and friends. On the other hand, some people were happy to travel for specialist care that was not available locally. Transport to and from oncology services, for example, could be a problem. In addition, Colleen talked about the difficulties in attracting GPs to small towns and the importance of making them welcome in the community when they arrived.

Denis has tired of waiting to see specialists in the public system in the Northern Territory.

Brian X explains how the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme helps rural and remote Australians travel to specialist care in metropolitan centres.

A few people mentioned feeling more comfortable receiving health care from someone of their own culture because of shared understanding about diet, health beliefs and the carer’s role. Some, including immigrants, were mistrustful of carers from other cultures where there have been historical animosities. For Aboriginal people in remote communities, aged care services “on country” were extremely important. Old people removed from their community were isolated and frightened that they would not return and people removed from their “homelands” into overcrowded housing often became ill.

Elaine M talks about caring for older Aboriginal people in their community in culturally appropriate ways.

Elaine M explains why being brought from homelands to town can make people ill.

Many people were aware of health workforce issues, particularly the shortage of aged care workers and nurses, but they were also aware that the government was attempting to address these and other ageing population issues.

Robyn is pleased to see that the “Living Longer Living Better” report puts in place a framework for aged care reform and addresses workforce issues.