Sunday, 21 April 2024

    Treating homeless

    There are some things that Melbourne’s street doctor sees a lot more than other GPs, The Age reports.

    Bed bug bites are common. Wounds fail to heal or become infected because some rough sleepers are malnourished, don’t get dressings changed or don’t have access to antibiotics.

    “People who are vulnerable are more likely to end up homeless, so there are also more mental health issues and people with drug and alcohol problems,” says Cohealth’s street doctor Kate Coles.

    Rough sleeping creates serious health problems and yet people who are homeless are less likely to access health services than the rest of the community.

    They face barriers including stigma and discrimination, long waiting lists, no Medicare cards and no money to pay for treatment or medication.

    “There has been a move away from bulk billing at a lot of private clinics,” Dr Coles says.

    Those that do bulk bill tend to have a high turnover of patients with short consultation times, which do not suit those experiencing homelessness, who often have complex needs.

    “A lot of clinics can be very unwelcoming places,” Dr Coles says. “I once heard a doctor saying ‘we don’t treat those sorts of people here’.”

    Every Wednesday for the past 18 months, Dr Coles, community health nurse Vaan Phongsavan and a social worker have provided free medical services out of an outreach bus to homeless patients.

    In the middle of Melbourne’s winter, Ms Phongsavan’s “uniform” is a puffer jacket and fingerless gloves. The outreach service has never been cancelled because of the weather.

    “I’m often sitting in an exposed laneway with a laptop triaging patients,” Ms Phongsavan says. “You are working out of your comfort zone with everything you need in a backpack. Our homeless, marginalised clients don’t have time to wait.”

    The Green Cross outreach bus has visited caravan parks in the western suburbs, St Mark’s Community Centre in Fitzroy and boarding houses.


    The street doctor service treating Melbourne’s homeless (The Age)