COVID-19: Royal Flying Doctor Service continues serving the bush during pandemic

FLIGHT READY: Royal Flying Doctor Service chief medical officer Dr Randall Greenberg and flight nurse Susan Jamieson at the Dubbo base. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE
FLIGHT READY: Royal Flying Doctor Service chief medical officer Dr Randall Greenberg and flight nurse Susan Jamieson at the Dubbo base. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

FLYING into high-risk populations to provide medical services is a challenge, but during a pandemic things become even tougher.

When coronavirus hit Australia and cases started occurring in Western NSW, everything changed for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

RFDS chief medical officer in Dubbo, Dr Randall Greenberg, said COVID-19 was a challenge to staff and the patients they treat.

"Anyone with any chronic disease is more at risk of having an adverse outcome if they get COVID," Dr Greenberg said.

"As we know from Victoria it doesn't take much for it to get out ... we didn't want to be the vector of bringing the disease into these remote communities."

Of high concern were Aboriginal populations where there is a higher rate of chronic disease.

"There were changes to protocols to make sure we had adequate infection controls in place," Dr Greenberg said.

FLIGHT READY: Royal Flying Doctor Service flight nurse Susan Jamieson and chief medical officer Dr Randall Greenberg at the Dubbo base. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

FLIGHT READY: Royal Flying Doctor Service flight nurse Susan Jamieson and chief medical officer Dr Randall Greenberg at the Dubbo base. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

"There were a lot of challenges with regards to our clinical work ... it was a challenge to get enough PPE in the beginning."

While support staff were sent home to work, many outreach clinics continued and the RFDS ramped up its Telehealth services to ensure anyone who needed help got it.

Dr Greenberg said isolation during COVID-19 lockdowns had a significant impact on some people's mental health and Telehealth services were often used for this reason.

While practices changes significantly, he said RFDS staff and clinicians were always a phone call away.

"I don't think we ever withdrew from them, we were always there in one way or another," he said.

"We never at any stage stopped doing emergency retrievals."

I don't think we ever withdrew from them, we were always there in one way or another.

Royal Flying Doctor Service chief medical officer Dr Randall Greenberg

While COVID-19 cases might be soaring in Victoria with 191 new diagnoses in the past 24 hours, in Western NSW it's been almost three months since there was a positive case.

"We're still treating people with flu-like symptoms as a suspect case," Dr Greenberg said.

COVID-19 has changed the way clinicians practice, Dr Greenberg said who now leaves for work each day in his scrubs rather than civilian clothes.

"I thought I was a very disciplined before, but this has taught me and my colleagues much better infection control," he said.

In his 35 years as a medico, Dr Greenberg said he had never experienced anything like this and feels proud that he was able to instrument change during the pandemic.

"I was proud to be a critical care clinician, I was proud to put my hand up [and] I was proud of the planning and systematic changes," he said.

"We're so lucky in Australia compared to the US and some of European communities."

The RFDS provide primary health care and 24-hour emergency service across rural and remote areas, as well as conduct inter hospital transfers across the Central West and to Bourke, Brewarrina, Broken Hill and Sydney.

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This story You'll need more than a pandemic to stop the Royal Flying Doctor Service first appeared on Daily Liberal.