23 January 2023

Early Morning Centre adds mobile healthcare to its services for vulnerable Canberrans

| Claire Fenwicke
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Mobile health outreach van

‘Chat to PAT’ mobile health outreach van in Veterans’ Park. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Canberrans experiencing homelessness now have more access to health care options at the Early Morning Centre (EMC) in Civic.

Directions Health Services has received funding to deliver Pathways to Assistance and Treatment (PAT) since 2021, and will now be at the centre every Monday from 9 am to midday.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said it was known that vulnerable Canberrans, including those experiencing homelessness, often had complex and underlying health problems, yet sometimes they could not be regularly engaged with primary and preventative health care.

“This can be due to financial barriers, difficulty in accessing primary healthcare services or poor experiences with healthcare providers in the past,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“By bringing ‘Chat to PAT’ to the Early Morning Centre, we are ensuring more Canberrans can access primary and preventive health services, helping to combat chronic disease and improve people’s overall health and wellbeing.”

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The PAT mobile clinic provides support for mental health, alcohol and other drug services, social support, case management and GP services.

It replaces the previous two-hour weekly primary health care service supported by the Capital Health Network.

Directions Health Services CEO Bronwyn Hendry said this provided a great opportunity to connect with people experiencing homelessness to address their health and wellbeing needs.

“This weekly service to the EMC is even more critical now as the reduction in the number of GPs who bulk bill in the Canberra [area] has meant it is more difficult for marginalised people to access the health services they need,” she said.

A recent report from Cleanbill, which provides information about healthcare accessibility across Australia, found only one in 20 GP clinics in the ACT bulk bill all patients – the lowest rate in the nation.

“[In] the Australian Capital Territory bulk billing has become an exceedingly rare practice,” the report stated.

“Outside of Sydney and Melbourne, Australian adults can only access free primary care at fewer than one in three GP clinics.”

It reported the ACT had the highest out-of-pocket costs for a standard consultation in the country at $49.01, with the national average at $40.25.

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UnitedCare Canberra City Director Nicole Wiggins said the Chat to Pat bus meant marginalised and vulnerable Canberrans could have better ease of access to health care services that many “urgently” needed.

“EMC guests have difficulty accessing health services and as a result have poor health outcomes,” she said.

“The Chat to Pat clinic at the EMC will assist to address this issue and result in improved health outcomes for our most vulnerable clients.”

The clinic services the EMC at the same time as the Orange Sky ‘Frosty’ van, which provides free laundry washing services.

The Early Morning Centre is open for breakfast every weekday from 7:30 am to 8:30 am. The community hub is open from 9 am to 2 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 1 pm on weekends.

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This is such a wonderful service and has been in operation for a few years. Most particularly in Ainslie, Reid and Braddon. I have seen these wonderful and caring health professionals provide assistance to many vulnerable Canberrans including those experiencing homelessness and substance abuse, those who have no identification and those who suffer complex and underlying health problems. It is a service that assists all ages and deserves ongoing funding.

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