Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Driven to care for rural patients”

17 October 2014

Sometimes it is a welcome change of pace to be able to step back from the turmoil of the political battlefield and celebrate one person’s vision to improve the plight of his fellow Australians.

Dr Rolf Gomes is a probably not a name you have heard before.

But his determination and sheer bloody-mindedness has literally set the wheels in motion towards an entirely new approach for delivering specialist medical care across rural communities.

Dr Gomes is a general Cardiologist with a special interest in heart failure, valvular heart disease and echocardiography.

He left a secure and highly paid career as an electrical engineer to study and graduate from medical school at The University of Queensland.

He then went on he completed his Cardiology Specialty training at The Prince Charles Hospital and The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

A major turning point in his medical career came during his time as a doctor in rural communities.

He said this time opened his eyes to the frustrating hurdles people outside the major centres confront when trying to receive even basic medical care.

Dr Gomes said he knew of rural patients that would drive all day to the city and sleep in their cars out the front of the hospital only to be told the next morning that their doctor had been called away to an emergency and they would have to come back in a fortnight.

He knew of other rural patients that risked complicating their heart conditions by driving on long stretches of highways because they desperately needed their test results.

Dr Gomes said the problem was that there was a clear shortage of medical specialists.

Yet, he concluded if medical specialists, such as him, did not take action to provide potential solutions, then it would be hard to expect anyone else to contribute to fixing these problems.

And so he took action, developing a prototype for Australia’s first mobile specialist medical clinic.

After five years of work, the ribbon was cut on the Kenworth K200 Prime Mover with 25m long trailer (making it one of the longest trucks on the Australian road) in Toowoomba only a few days ago.

The trailer contains a fully functional diagnostic and treatment clinic, with two private consultation rooms, a testing room with diagnostic equipment and even a reception area.

The clinic allows people across the bush to receive what they have solely lacked – specialist medical care just a stone’s throw from their farm gate.

The truck is currently in St George and will travel to Dalby, St George, Charleville, Roma and Goondiwindi over the coming months. There are eventual plans to take it across the state.

The ability to bring specialist treatment to a community is a game changer for the medical fraternity and rural Australians.

Health professionals and policy makers around the nation are now watching this truck carefully to see how the concept might be adapted to cater to different rural regions and specialist medical care.

This revolutionary concept could not only assist rural people seek cardiology specialist treatment, but could be expanded to include other medical facilities in the future.

At the unveiling of the Heart of Australia, Dr Gomes told the audience how he arrived in Australia from India as a small boy. His parents were carrying a suitcase each. His father had just $200 in his wallet.

He said from these humble beginnings he was able to work towards a university education and ultimately a highly respectable career in medicine.

He told the audience that it was his love of Australia, and appreciation of all it had given him, which had driven him to want to give back to his adopted homeland.

Well, I think Australia is far better off for his drive and determination.

Dr Gomes is a true leader and man of vision. We need more of his kind.

And I will put it on the public record that I will continue to fight for the mobile medical clinic concept to expand across the length and breadth of our nation.