How healthy a heartbeat?

By David Moase

Heart patients are suffering, some even dying, because straightforward diagnostic procedures cannot be performed at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus.

Rather than undergoing coronary angiograms ? X-rays of the heart ? close to home, people with suspected heart problems have to travel to Sydney, often at great expense to the taxpayer.

Once there, they are often forced to stay for extended periods in unfamiliar surroundings, adding worry to their already stressful condition.

Despite these problems, attempts to make angiograms and angioplasty, the clearing of fatty deposits in arteries, available to patients in country areas of NSW, are allegedly being met with resistance from Sydney doctors.

Dr Waites says some people with suspected heart conditions cannot face the prospect of travelling to Sydney for tests and treatment.

"Some people say, 'if I've got to go to Sydney, I'd rather have the pills and take my chances'," he said.

"And the problem is they're not the squeaky wheel, they're the ones who have accepted this all the years and said that it's part and parcel of living in the country.

"It's those who have relocated from Sydney who are saying, 'this is crazy, this is a basic service, why can't we have this basic service in Coffs Harbour'."

Dr Waites travels to Sydney regularly to conduct angiograms on his patients and notices a difference between them and Sydney people being admitted for similar procedures.

"Our patients are much younger, a lot sicker, and a lot more desperate," he said.

"The Sydney patients are having their fourth or fifth procedure and a lot are very elderly, frail people to whom we would say you're too sick to travel.

"We've also got a high level of Aboriginality, which increases the risk ? trying to get a poor Aboriginal fellow down to get an angiogram, just forget it."

Earlier this week, Associate Professor David Brieger, head of coronary care at Concord Hospital, was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald saying there was a risk country heart facilities would be chronically understaffed and doctors would feel under pressure to perform procedures in patients who should really be transferred to a Sydney hospital.

Dr Waites, and some of his country colleagues, have penned a letter in reply saying they believe selected cases can be performed safely without surgical backup.

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