Saturday 24 July 2010

Saturday SoapBlog: 'I can’t get my meds today' - Cairns failed to provide medical support

A disturbing story of a HIV positive man visiting Cairns from Sydney last week, has raised serious concerns for the provision of basic health services in the region.

Secretary of Positive Action Cairns, Geoff Harrision, says the visitor could not get three days supply of a medication when his supply had run out while visiting Cairns on holiday.

"It shows that no matter how hard he tried to get the medication, it was blocked by all levels of the local system," Geoff Harrision told

Alex from Sydney tells his story...

I can’t get my meds today - Adherence with the worst medical support.

I have just been spending a nine day holiday in Cairns to get away from Sydney winter and catch up with my long time friends.

On Thursday I realized that one of my HIV medications was going to run out – Oh no I didn’t pack my supply very well did I. My local poz friends put me onto the HIV service so I could get three days supply of one of my HIV medications.

I called the Cairns Sexual Health Dolls House and told them of my problem and the need to get the days supply of Isentress. They said they will call me back. Two hours had passed and my mobile had not received a call, so I rang them to see how my appointment/prescription request was progressing.

They replied saying that they had called my mobile before but did not get an answer. As I had been sitting at my friend’s house reading a book with my phone next to me, I knew it didn’t ring. They would find out and would ring me back.

When they called me they said I couldn’t get an appointment with the doctor in time to get my prescription filled in, as this was a Friday, and that I should get my Sydney doctor to send a script to the Cairns Base pharmacy.

So then I called Sydney and asked for my doctor to call me, and was told he would call me later on.

I then had a friend call to book a PBS doctor in Cairns to make an appointment, as this may have been a bit easier for me to get my HIV medication, but he was not at work. Maybe he was off to a conference? My friend then called another Cairns PBS prescribing doctor and made an appointment for noon, with 15 minutes before to fill in the new client form before doing my script.

At 8pm, my Sydney doctor called. I told him my problem and said I had managed to get an appointment with a HIV doctor here in Cairns. He said to ring him in the morning if there were any problems. The next morning the Cairns doctor’s clinic called and said they had to cancel my appointment as he wasn’t going to be available.

Cairns Base no go. Next HIV prescribing GP no go. Another HIV prescribing GP no go. Is that three misses and you’re out?

Another call to my Sydney doctor to get a script faxed to the Cairns Base Hospital pharmacy, and a call to the Cairns Base Hospital pharmacy to get their fax number. This then went to the Hospital director who said they needed to liaise with my Sydney Hospital where my prescriptions are filled in. The Cairns Base Hospital director wanted a fax from my Sydney doctor - and that their original script be posted to them along with a covering letter from my Sydney doctor.

This was now about 10 phone calls over 18 hours and still nowhere nearer to getting the medication that I needed.

With luck, a local HIV friend handed over to me five of the six doses that I needed, using up the last of his own until he gets his next supply on Monday.

So be warned, never travel to Cairns or maybe any other part of Australia, without excess supply of your medications. And don’t stay away any longer than the supply of medications that you have. Most likely, call after call and conversations after conversations with the right doctors and HIV clinic, you may still not get anywhere.


Leigh Dall'Osto said...

That is just rude. The health system needs a slap if this is the way they help those who require daily medication. I have the scary feeling that this scenario is not isolated to Cairns.

Oliver Redlynch said...

Its sad to realise that as far as the rest of australia is concerned, Cairns is simply a pretty but troublesome little town of cane farmers and hotel owners with no importance other than a nice jumping off point to the rainforest and reef and gateway to port douglas. Come the next big cyclone that destroys the place, I'm sure Brisbane and Canberra will be quite relieved, and rather than rebuild will offer relocation packages for the residents since it will be "cheaper". Until then, Cairns remains forgotten about at the end of a very long supply chain and suffers at the hands of its own "she'll be right" attitude which means we endure these crap local services. This story is simply appalling but reeks of an endemic lack of customer centric service at any quasi government agency. Am I being too cycnical, or too generous? And yet, for all of Cairns failings, we still love the place.

Al said...

Well, this story wouldn't be here if the person in question had taken a little more responsibility for his own health and well being and made sure he had sufficient medication to see him through. Luckily, he wasn't holidaying in Bali or the like.

Vivian Wrinkledbotham said...

Give me a break, Alex. And Leigh, and Oliver.

I'm on hard-to-get, very expensive, Govt-funded medication for a serious chronic illness too. There is unavoidably a lot of red tape involved in getting my medication, and as I live hundreds of kms from a hospital I make damn sure my supply is organized well in advance.

It's really a bit much to expect everyone else to jump into action on a Friday afternoon, just because you're too disorganized to have your medication with you.

Cairns Resident said...

The main problem is that our health system is state-based. If the person concerned had been anywhere in his home state of NSW, he would not have experienced the same problems.

A person living with a chronic medical condition like HIV should have the right to get his or her medication easily anywhere in Australia. The only way to achieve this is to make the health system national.