Street Dr struggle

WITH another winter approaching, along with the deathly chill of a horror State Budget, the Fremantle Street Doctor, its future always uncertain, is again struggling to make ends meet.

Black Swan Health chief Terina Grace told the Herald, with homelessness on the up and up, there’s been an explosion in demand for their services from nine to 19 clinics per week accounting for 3,000 attendances this past year.

New research out of Notre Dame University and University of Western Australia has shown Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islanders account for 38 per cent of appointments at the clinic, compared to just two per cent at mainstream health clinics.

• Dean Wilkins, Joanne Hart and Timothy Shepherd give the thumbs up to the Freo Street Doctor: all are anxious about its future. Photo by Alice Angeloni

Sponsors needed

Many of these people, often the most marginalised with chronic illnesses, are also much shyer about approaching mainstream health services.

The research follows Black Swan Health winning a public tender in 2017 to develop a ‘sustainable’ community-led front-line service in the WA health department’s south west region to coincide with a proposed cut in its state government funding from 2019.

The new-look cost-shifting programme is meant to involve local government, other social support groups, student placements and volunteers.

In addition, the ‘sustainability’ is meant to include as much Medicare billing­ – from federal government funds—as possible

But instead the pilot programme has seen such a huge rise in demand and a struggle to meet the costs with donations and corporate sponsorship expected to cover the gap.

Ms Grace, ever diplomatic, conceded that only one of the two employees at each clinic is covered by Medicare.

• Dr May Sian Oh at the Freo Street Doctor. Photo by Alice Angeloni

She said the WA government had gratefully funded the Freo Street Doctor for 14 years. But after 2019 the service is expected to run “independently with Medicare funding and community support here and there”, according to Ms Grace.

In addition to a call for more doctors Ms Grace said “we are very interested (in) sponsorship, volunteers or donations from anyone in the Fremantle area who would like to contribute”, making special mention of local business Seacorp and the upcoming Soroptimist International’s art auction fundraiser on May 12.

Acting premier and WA health minister Roger Cook pledged to support the transition to the new model as did local State MP and WA child protection minister Simone McGurk who in 2016 was piling the pressure on the then Barnett Liberal government when the Freo Street Doctor was last under threat.

by ALICE ANGELONI

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