Search over for specialist
WHEN Dr David Bird arrived in Coffs Harbour this month it was the answer to a search which has ranged not just across the nation but across the world.
Dr Bird is the Coffs Coast's first full-time, locally based public palliative care specialist.
The Mid North Coast Local Health Network and previously the North Coast Area Health Service has conducted a four-year search for a doctor to fill the position.
Palliative care provides specialist care and support for people living with terminal illness, their family and carers to improve their quality of life.
It is a high priority for the local health network, in a region with an above-average level of older people and a low socio-economic profile.
Dr Bird seems just as pleased to have discovered the Coffs Coast as the health network is to have found him.
A former country general practitioner in New Zealand, he became so interested in palliative care while studying a medical refresher course that he went on to do advanced training as a specialist in the discipline.
He has moved to the Coffs Coast after working in palliative care in the New Zealand capital of Wellington for 10 years, where he said he did a lot of work involving non-cancer patients especially those with chronic airways diseases and heart disease.
Dr Bird said they found among the most effective moves to keep patients out of hospital was a 24-hour telephone number for help and regular specialist nurse visits, added to allied health and specialist medical reviews.
"There is a huge economic factor to this and it really makes sense," Dr Bird said.
Dr Bird said with his children having grown up and left home and his wife busy working on her Masters degree in Primary Care nursing, he had been looking for a new challenge and had been interested in moving to Australia.
"I am so brilliant at geography I thought Coffs Harbour was a beachside suburb of Sydney," Dr Bird said.
"Then I looked it up; thought it seemed an interesting place and the job looked intriguing and challenging."
In New Zealand, Dr Bird was responsible for setting up a new palliative care service for a population of about 140,000 people and championed community outreach services.
Health network manager of community and allied health Mark Wilson said Dr Bird would bring oversight and clinical governance to palliative care in both the community and hospital settings on the Coffs Coast.
"We are looking at new models of palliative care," he said.
Dr Bird said: "I hope one of the outcomes will be that more people will have their wishes and needs met and we will put in a lot more effort to prevent unnecessary admissions to hospitals, which is one of my real passions. There are a lot of opportunities to do that. It will be a process of change and building up the service. Palliative care has changed over the last decade. People shouldn't suffer with pain and other symptoms."
Based at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus, Dr Bird will visit Bellingen, Dorrigo and Macksville hospitals and health centres on a regular basis.