Remote and regional health care: ‘Something has to change’

For well-known truck driver and outback farm owner Danyelle Haigh, a recent health scare has shone further light on the issues those in remote areas face when requiring medical care. Now she’s calling on governments to fix the nation’s broken rural and remote healthcare system.

Danyelle and her husband Anthony Haigh, who many would recognise from popular television show Outback Truckers and more recently their show Outback Farm, moved to a remote 5000-acre property, about 200km north of Alice Springs over two years ago – where their primary business is producing and delivering hay for the cattle industry.

That’s all the while continuing to run Murranji Water Drilling, which sees them on the road travelling to some of the most remote locations, together with their two young sons Heath, 10, and Theo, 5.

It was around 18 months ago that Danyelle found a small lump in her breast. She was told it was benign but to come back and get it checked if it grew or changed.

Danyelle had to fly interstate to get the medical treatment she needed. Image: Danyelle Haigh

A few months ago, she realised that lump had tripled in size, so presented to Alice Springs Hospital – a two-hour drive from home – only to be told it could be months before she could even get an ultrasound or a mammogram, as a physician would need to be flown in.

“I was actually supposed to get checked again after 6-12 months. But it was such a mission last time that I just put it on the back burner,” she said.

With breast cancer running in the family – her grandmother battled breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy – Danyelle didn’t want to take any chances.

Her only option was to fly interstate so she could receive the medical attention she needed. 

As she revealed, “I rang my mum pretty upset, because it was quite scary and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t realise my mum had spoken to Anthony that night and they organised flights for me to the Gold Coast. I saw a GP there a couple of days later, had an ultrasound that afternoon and then a mammogram straight after.”

Danyelle returned home to the Northern Territory while awaiting the results before having to get back on a plane to the Gold Coast to undergo surgery and have tumours removed from both of her breasts. 

Thankfully they were benign but turned out to be fast, aggressive tumours. “They take these sorts of tumours out all the time, because eventually they can turn into cancer. It’s more common than people know. But the early detection is what stops it from turning into breast cancer, whether that be in six months or five years down the track.”

Danyelle says she’s thankful that her husband and her mother pushed so hard for her to go to the Gold Coast to do what was needed for her health.

Yet there are many others who aren’t so lucky.

“There are people who can’t afford to go interstate to see a doctor, so they just leave it. And there’s the time factor too that makes it hard for people. With all that’s been going on, we’ve only been out drilling for two weeks of the year so far.”

According to the Cancer Council, a mammogram every two years is the best way to detect breast cancer early and improve survival. For people living in remote areas, unfortunately that’s sometimes easier said than done.

“Alice Springs is quite a big town and it’s appalling really that it’s so difficult to get an appointment for something like a mammogram. They don’t have the staff so sometimes they have someone there once a month, sometimes even less – and even then, appointments are really hard to get.”

Along with an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy, Danyelle used the trip interstate to get her health in check. While there, she says she also had blood tests, a colonoscopy and gastroscopy, which found a large ulcer in her stomach that had been causing issues for months and she discovered she needed a double iron infusion too.

“In remote, rural Australia, the health system is really struggling. They can’t get staff. The closest clinic we have is about 60km away and they have FIFO nurses and doctors. They’re being paid really good money, so the incentive is there, they just can’t get the staff,” added Danyelle.

“Something has to change, because the current government is talking the talk but isn’t walking the walk.”

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