Longing for a doctor in Ulong
IN ULONG, talk quickly turns to two things - lack of rain and lack of a doctor.
While residents may have to accept the lack of rain, this community is fighting hard to find a doctor.
Carol Cleary is leading the charge, with the backing of the entire valley community.
"We have done as much as we can to help ourselves," Carol said.
"Many locals attended first aid courses held in our community hall and we now have five first responders trained to operate the defibrillators."
When not busy running the local store/cafe with husband Steve, Carol has been petitioning for a medical presence in the valley. For these country folk, hospital and ambulance services are an hour's drive down the mountain. Unfortunately, so is access to a doctor or pharmacy.
In a pile of paperwork, Carol has a letter from North Coast Primary Health that reads in part: "We acknowledge the enthusiasm and commitment of the Ulong community in exploring local solutions for issues relating to timely access to medical services.
"NCPH is therefore happy to support your application in providing financial assistance to go towards setting up a clinic space."
The news is fantastic but there's a catch. This is not a case of "build it and they will come". Ulong has to secure the services of a general practitioner who will service the outreach clinic before NCPH will act.
"I've sent out letters to all the clinics across the Coffs Coast," Carol said.
"Ideally this would suit a GP based in Coffs who is part of a medical clinic. They could see patients out here, maybe one day or morning a week or even a fortnight, and then when needed refer them into their clinic in Coffs for tests, treatment or follow-up appointments."
Ulong and surrounding villages in the valley contain a mix of young families, commuters, retirees, elderly and people making a living on the land.
No access to a local medical service has been difficult for locals and also a stumbling block for people considering moving there.
"A doctor in the valley would be giving so much to this community. A GP up here could really connect and make such a difference," Carol said.
"Older members of our community are being forced to move into Coffs, especially if they don't drive any more.
"We are such a tight community and very social, it's heartbreaking for the elderly to have to leave because we don't have a GP service."
It's not just the elderly. Mum of two young children Katie Sibio said an outreach clinic would be a game- changer for local families.
"Whichever GP comes to operate the outreach clinic, they will become our family doctor in a heartbeat. The same would happen with other families," Katie said.
Taking two young kids for an hour's drive down the mountain to get to a clinic or hospital in Coffs, waiting around for hours, then driving an hour home for non life-threatening conditions is something Katie and other locals would love to avoid.
"It's all the other services a local GP could help with too, like preventative health and mental health issues," Carol said.
"Once the clinic is established, I have pledges from the Women's Health Clinic who will send nurses up for health checks.
"There has also been interest from other sectors in the medical field.
"It all starts with a GP."
Details: Carol Cleary 66545320.