By BELINDA SCOTT
FRED Chalk (not his real name) reads stories about Coffs Coast health issues with a very different eye these days.
An older man with a young family, he had a heart bypass in 2001 and was diagnosed with colon cancer several months later.
Buoyed by his sense of humour as well as his determination to see his two children grow up, he has been battling cancer and its complications for almost four years.
In the process of undergoing operations and treatment, including radiotherapy and chemotherapy, he has become a veteran health consumer and his view of the local health care system, both public and private, is wry.
His stories range from a clandestine dash to the emergency department in his GP's car to hospital battles with paperwork, precedent and procedure.
Through every story is the frustration of the patient at the centre, trying to make his voice heard among the clinical chorus and wanting the reassurance of being cared for by people he knows and trusts.
Although he has private health cover, he says he has no guarantee of getting the doctor or specialist of his choice ? and he can still have a huge 'cap' to pay if he chooses to use his private health cover. In one case he made a booking for a day surgical procedure and nominated the doctor he wanted, saying he had private cover, but was told the doctor he wanted was not available.
The doctor who was available would do the procedure for him whether he was a public or private patient ? but he would pay much more as a private patient.
He says privately insured patients who are not careful will find themselves with huge bills for treatment they could have had free as public patients.
But one thing he finds incomprehensible is the fact that his own doctor is not permitted to look after him in hospital.
Mr Chalk said he had also been told by hospital medical staff that his renal specialist was not allowed to operate on him in the public hospital.
"There are doctors already in Coffs Harbour who are persona non grata at the hospital (Coffs Harbour Health Campus)," Mr Chalk said.
"Why? This is getting crazy.
"We are supposed to be short of doctors, but there are two I know of that are not allowed to attend a patient in hospital ? so we have the doctors but they are not allowed to use the facilities.
The media manager for the North Coast Area Health Service, Robin Osborne, said Mr Chalk's GP did not have visiting rights to treat patients at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus, was now, commonly, the medical practice at a major referral hospital of this kind. The renal specialist had not asked to see him.
"In previous times when there were less specialists, GPs did have VMO (visiting medical officer) rights at the large base hospitals, and they still do at the smaller rural hospitals, after approval of their credentials by the Area Medical Appointments Committee and Area Credentials Committee," Mr Osborne said.
"When patients are referred to the larger hospitals they come under the care of the specialised teams."
Mr Chalk said the renal specialist Mr Osborne named was not the specialist he had consulted.
He is happy to talk about his experiences but wary of using his real name.
"I'll be back in hospital again ? and I don't want them pulling out the blunt needle every time they see me," he said.