NSW new regional children and families saved long-distance travel with new hospital outreach clinic

Families in regional NSW can now access specialist cardiac care closer to home, thanks to a new outreach clinic providing echocardiograms for regional children with heart conditions.

The outreach clinic is an initiative of Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) and is being hosted at South East Regional Hospital (SERH), Bega.

Minister for Regional Health Ryan Park said the clinic will play a crucial role in connecting high quality healthcare to children in the region.

“Children with congenital heart disease, rheumatic disease, or acquired cardiac disease often require regular heart screening via an echocardiogram, which must be performed by a specialist paediatric cardiologist,” Mr Park said.

“The specialised services provided by SERH’s outreach clinic will support the health and wellbeing of children from the beginning, therefore allowing us to attend to the long-term health of the community.”

Member for Bega, Dr Michael Holland said that the outreach clinic will utilise specialists from SCHN visiting SERH with the equipment to perform echocardiograms.

“The clinic provides an excellent opportunity for us to enhance health accessibility in the area by collaborating with our regional colleagues, connecting specialised services and upskilling their teams in paediatric care,”  said Dr Holland.

SERH Paediatrician, Dr Caroline Stewart, said the three-day clinic, which launched this month, will run four times a year and is expected to help more than 20 families per clinic avoid a trip to Sydney.

“We see children from birth to 16 years old with complex conditions from as far south as Mallacoota, north to Bateman’s Bay and west to Jindabyne, so to save even one trip per year makes a huge difference to regional families and the child’s quality of life.”

Dr Philip Roberts, Head of the Heart Centre for Children at SCHN, said keeping kids closer to home is the ultimate goal.

“We know the strain placed on a family when they are required to travel hundreds of kilometres from home for medical treatment, so our hope with this outreach clinic is that we can help avoid that inconvenience for some of our families, by bringing our care directly to them,” Dr Roberts said.

Southern NSW Local Health District Clinical Lead Paediatrics, Dr Susie Piper, said being able to offer the service locally is an incredible achievement.

“We have 23 families who would otherwise have to travel to Sydney or Canberra. For the families, knowing the clinic is going to be here every three months, and being able to come to a local clinic is great,” Dr Piper said.

“Our five paediatricians and nursing staff will also benefit from this specialist screening on site and there are teaching opportunities as well with our medical students from the Australian National University.”

For four-year-old Isaac Shearer and his family, having the test at Bega will save them the long, overnight trip from Bateman’s Bay to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney.

Isaac has a genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome and has regular appointments in Sydney for his condition. Mum Sarah Brierley is happy this new clinic will now save them at least one trip per year, when Isaac was younger and had more regular tests it would have saved them multiple trips.

The outreach clinic forms part of the Cardiac Care for Kids Outreach Program, a pilot program run by SCHN in collaboration with federal Department of Health. The program aims to extend outreach medical and nursing support services to rural and remote communities and their local health care facilities.

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