Winter woes for the unwell

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Stretched to the limit: GPs are doing their best and so too are paramedics and emergency departments but surging demand and loss of staff to illness is placing pressure on the system. Photo by Getty Images

It’s disheartening when you are sick but can’t get into a doctor.

I’ve been battling a respiratory problem that just won’t go away, but it is mild compared to what many other people are facing.

The hacking unproductive cough is tiring, and so is the disrupted sleep it promotes.

Eventually, I decided it wasn’t going to resolve itself.

I went online to book an appointment but there was nothing until next week.

I rang, and got a phone appointment within a couple of hours.

After a brief discussion, the doc said he’d need to listen to my chest, and could I come to the side door so he could duck out between appointments.

These are the lengths to which doctors are having to go to see patients as we battle through another wave of COVID-19 and a bunch of winter bugs to which we have weakened resistance.

I’ve had my COVID vaccinations and a flu jab, so thought I was pretty prepared, but when it all got on top of me in the middle of the night, I admit I considered calling an ambulance.

The coughing had left me exhausted and my breathing was laboured.

It would have been so easy to do, and I would have been comforted by the fact I was getting professional help.

Then I thought, do I really need it?

Our paramedics are also under the pump and so too are our emergency departments, who are also losing staff to the winter swarm.

At the same time, demand is at record heights, and respiratory problems are among the illnesses driving that demand.

There is a conundrum here.

In ordinary times, an ambulance, or a check-up at emergency, is something available to all.

Fortunately I’d already been seen by a doctor, who reassured me my cough was viral and would pass with rest and plenty of fluids.

Had I not been so quickly attended to on the day I may well have succumbed and called an ambulance, soaking up a precious resource that someone else needed much more than I did.

A recent study revealed most people search their illness before seeking help: the Dr Google phenomenon.

What we don’t want though, is people making decisions they shouldn’t, like not calling an ambulance when they should, purely out of some sense of doing public good.

There has been a raft of announcements in recent weeks from the Victorian Government about additional resources to support front-line health workers.

None of it will solve the immediate problem while there’s a shortage of GPs and high demand for ambulance and emergency services.

We are stretched very thin.

In the medium to long term we need greater capability but in the short term we need to use appropriate services.

NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24 is one such service, which can then direct you to appropriate help, including if needed, 000.