CONCERNED MUM: Christine Merrett (left) and her son Sam are concerned Medicare funding for doctor home visits may be stopped.
CONCERNED MUM: Christine Merrett (left) and her son Sam are concerned Medicare funding for doctor home visits may be stopped. Contributed

Rocky mum: after-hours doctor saved my son's life

WHEN Christine Merrett's son was struck down with what she thought was croup that grew progressively worse, she called a home visit doctor who quickly recognised her son was having an asthma attack and rushed him to the hospital.

With emergency rooms overflowing with patients during a record-breaking flu season, there are concerns that a vital home visit service provided by doctors could be in jeopardy, affecting people like Christine and placing an additional strain on hospitals, ambulances and health care providers.

The National Medical Deputising Service (NAMDS) is the peak body representing after-hours medical deputising services in Australia said the Government's review of Medicare would prevent most existing doctors, including emergency doctors, from providing home visits.

In a statement, NAMDS said it would mean only a patient's own GP would be able to visit after hours, leaving most patients like Ms Merrett with no option but to visit an emergency department.

"I was bitterly disappointed when I heard they might stop funding for the home visit doctor," Ms Merrett said. "I've used it five to six times over the past two-and-a-half years."

Mother of four, Ms Merrett, 50, said she mostly used the home visit doctor for her son Sam, 6, who was often afflicted with croup, which she would normally manage at home.

In April last year, she had a bad feeling about her son's condition and called the home doctor to visit "to be sure".

"It was after hours and we didn't want to take him outside, which would have made him worse," Ms Merrett said.

"We knew he needed treatment however and made a call to an after-hours doctor.

"He recognised straight away that my son was actually having an asthma attack, and called an ambulance on our behalf."

Ms Merrett says without the doctor's diagnosis, her son "would have died that night".

The home visit doctor also helped her son Thomas, 17, who was suffering from a panic attack and couldn't leave the house.

"The home doctors were always efficient, accurate and always turn up in a kindly manner, they're great," she said.

"This service is very valuable, it's free, it's taking pressure off for non-critical health situations for the ambulances and emergency rooms at hospitals."

"The local GP's always booked up and it's very hard to get in to see them."

She said no doctors seem to bulk bills these days.

"I work and pay taxes and Medicare for these house call doctors who provide a very valuable service."

"If my son had a cough or cold, a doctor normally comes in and writes prescription," she said.

>>READ: The government responds to concerns about after-hours doctor services<<

NAMDS President Dr Spiro Doukakis said he feared that local emergency departments would not cope with the sudden increase in demand."The simple fact is that the only alternative for local patients like Ms Merrett's son would be to queue up at emergency departments, if after hours home visits are no longer available," Dr Doukakis said.

"This would be a major funding cut to Medicare, impacting most doctors currently providing home visits at night and weekends. It will no longer be viable for them to provide the service.

"This would have a catastrophic impact on people like Ms Merrett and on the safety of people visiting stretched emergency departments for life threatening emergency issues. It will cost lives and would be a clear breach of the Federal Government's promise not to cut Medicare."

Dr Doukakis quoted a Deloitte Access Economics report which found that without access to after-hours visits by doctors to households and aged-care homes the cost to the health system would be $724 million higher over the four years.

He implored local MP Michelle Landry to stand up for the after hours home visits in the Parliament.