real life

Louise has a chronically ill daughter. One service has helped more than anything else.

Protect Home Visits
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When you live with a chronic illness, the subject of health care is not a matter of politics.

Funding is not something to be hotly debated across the dinner table, or just another point in a long list of budget items.

Rather, having access to the healthcare you need directly influences your day-to-day life. It is a necessity, not a luxury you might be able to manage without.

As it stands, more than one million families benefit from home visiting doctors every year. But despite the unequivocal need for them, there are proposed plans to cut the Medicare rebate for home visits. This would reduce the number of home visiting doctors, and limit the promotion of such services.

This would have a huge impact upon people like Louise and her chronically ill daughter, Sarah*, who say that home visiting doctors have radically improved Sarah’s quality of life.

Sarah has been sick since she was two. She suffers from Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition where going from lying to standing causes an abnormally large increase in heart rate. Many people with POTS suffer from associated conditions like irritable bowel disease, insomnia, chronic migraines or fibromyalgia.

Sarah has been sick for almost her whole life. Image via Getty.

"The whole automatic nervous system is dysfunctional," Louise told Mamamia.

"Often [Sarah's] not great. She's extremely nauseated, dizzy, faint, she has headaches, severe migraines, and lots of other gut-related things as well."

Sarah regularly needs various prescriptions and assessment, and illnesses can come on at any time, day or night. There is no GP open at 1am on a Tuesday morning.

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But Louise being a nurse herself, who has seen firsthand the overcrowding of emergency rooms, is reluctant to take up a place in a lengthy queue for a dose of antibiotics or nausea relief, when others are presenting with far more serious medical needs.

"Sometimes, you know, she's had a really bad 24 hours... and we might run out of the only medicine she can have for her nausea," Louise told me.

And for Louise and Sarah, home visiting doctors have been their saviour. Louise says they have used the service on average once every two months since they discovered it existed, and it's been "absolutely wonderful".

They bulk-bill, and Louise has never had to wait more than an hour, estimating that from the time of the phone call, it takes about 45 minutes for a doctor to arrive.

"One time when we were away, she was really unwell, but I knew she wasn't sick enough to go to emergency, and I didn't know what to do," Louise recalled.

Image via Getty.

"And I'm a nurse and I should know what to do! I didn't have what I needed and they were... beautiful. He was such a lovely man. He came to the holiday apartment building and provided a really good assessment, great advice, a script for her, because she had suddenly come down with an ear infection. It was really late at night and she needed some antibiotics. We were able to avoid going to emergency."

Often, Louise says, Sarah is actually too sick to move and having someone attend their house is a godsend. With Sarah's condition, getting her in a car to drive her to emergency and having her wait up to five hours in the waiting room is not only difficult, it would exacerbate her illness.

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For Louise, home visiting doctors have taken the decision of whether or not to take Sarah to the emergency room out of her hands.

"They help you make that decision... instead of us weighing up should I or shouldn't I?" she added.

Louise insisted that they have never, and would never abuse such an important service, opting for the local GP when possible. But knowing that there is someone to call if Sarah's health deteriorates overnight has been nothing short of life-changing for Louise.

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

"We are such a lucky country to have the services and healthcare we have, and to take that away, I think it will crowd our emergency departments," Louise said, a prediction corroborated by The National Association for Medical Deputising Services.

A recent report by Deloitte's Access Economics found after-hours home visits have actually saved taxpayers $724 million dollars over the four years of the budget by reducing pressure on emergency departments.

Most people who use the service are working parents, older Australians and people who live with a disability - the very people we ought to look after.

For those who use home visits, this is not about ideology or politics. This is about having access to a basic level of health care they need.

Here's what you can do to help. Sign the Protect Home Visits petition here.

Have you ever used home visits? How important are they to you? Tell us your story below.

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