I was lucky to have a great GP. Then she went on maternity leave and my health care collapsed | El Gibbs
I didn’t realize how fragile my healthcare system was until my GP went on maternity leave and everything fell apart.
There have rightly been a myriad of articles about the GP crisis, detailing excessive workload, the move to bulk billing and declining numbers of doctors. But there hasn’t been much on how it affects disabled and sick people who rely more than most on GPs.
I was lucky to have a very good GP in recent years. She’s kind, funny, curious and non-judgmental, and works so, so hard. She and I managed my complex and administratively challenging healthcare through a number of crises and then the pandemic.
My GP has acted as the linchpin of my care as I see an ever increasing number of expensive specialists who don’t listen, talk to each other or take an interest in my ongoing healthcare. Some specialists said they couldn’t help me, they didn’t know what to do, or there was nothing available to treat me, so I shouldn’t come back. Others have treated one part of my body without considering the impact on other parts and how they react to that particular treatment.
When each letter from a specialist arrived, my GP and I would confuse her, trying to figure out what it meant and how it interacted with other letters, and figuring out what I should do now.
She juggled me through 12 months of kidney failure; adjusting meds, doing more tests, checking in with me every few weeks to see how long I could endure. We weighed all the equally terrible options each time, shooting the time I had left on one particular drug that was vital to staying alive, but also causing harm.
During the pandemic, she knew I was both more susceptible to contracting Covid and at high risk if I was infected. She helped me work through ever-changing information and make good decisions about what I could and couldn’t do.
My GP consulted medical journals and asked colleagues about the right specialists, liaised with the local hospital and worked out how I could access vaccines and antivirals for Covid.
This demanding and specialized work of supporting people with chronic illnesses and disabilities is neither recognized nor funded when we talk about general medicine, yet it is often what many of our general practitioners do, day after day.
I’ve been sick with at least one serious illness since my teens, spending months in hospital, using outpatient clinics the rest of the time. Along the way, I didn’t always have a GP who could do that coordination and support as I navigated nearly impenetrable medical systems.
In the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), there are support coordinators who help people with disabilities navigate through the complexities of the disability system. There are no such coordinators in the health care system, which is designed more for occasional or emergency care than for chronic illnesses.
The 2021 census asked questions about chronic conditions for the first time and revealed that millions of us suffer from one or more serious long-term illnesses. My experience is not unusual or rare, but there is little recognition of this in the funding or structures of our health care system.
Two months ago, my lovely GP went on parental leave to have her first baby. I knitted her a baby cardigan, made a card and wished her luck, with a small idea of what was to come. After all, the duration of a pregnancy is reasonably predictable, so medical practice was surely prepared.
I was not the only person with a complex chronic illness to see my GP. Over the past few years, she had ended up managing mostly people who needed this type of health care.
But the current GP funding crisis meant the practice I had been a patient of for over 15 years suddenly didn’t have enough GPs and couldn’t attract them in time to handle all of my GP’s patients . I found myself without a GP, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one. My Covid security plan fell apart and I was unable to access telehealth or my regular medications. All those carefully crafted plans, gone in an instant.
After months of trying to get an answer on what I was supposed to do with no answer I had to look for another GP in a different practice. I don’t have my medical records or even an up-to-date list of blood test results or medications, and I’m not sure how I’m going to get them.
It’s not the fault of my GP or even the medical practice, although I’m quite angry with them. I understand the crisis they find themselves in, but this crisis is one for me too, as well as for many other sick and disabled people. Where are our voices in this discussion?
My healthcare shouldn’t depend on the goodwill of a single GP, working ridiculous hours, and it shouldn’t crumble so quickly.
I want my GP to be well supported, with enough resources to manage and coordinate my care. I want her to be recognized for the specialist work she does in managing those of us with serious complex chronic illnesses and disabilities. I want medical practices to be sustainable, to provide all the paramedical and nursing care we need and to recognize the importance of GPs in the lives of many sick and disabled people.
And I want those of us who need the health care system the most to have more say in how that system works and how it doesn’t.