Flying Doctor clinics – a vital part of Outback communities

RFDS women child and family health nurse Jacqueline Noble cropped

Jacqueline Noble.

My name is Jacqueline Noble. I’m the RFDS women’s and child family health nurse.

In remote areas there are usually no doctors and no nurses. The most basic health facilities can be hundreds of kilometers away.

That’s why Flying Doctor clinics are such a vital part of the local community.

The RFDS runs weekly, fortnightly and monthly health clinics on station properties and in remote townships across far north western NSW, as well as in parts of south western Queensland and north eastern South Australia.

Cover letter_Keith and Jenny Treloar at the Wiawera clinic.

Jenny and Keith Treloar.

At Wiawera, a station property close to the border between NSW and SA, Jenny and Keith Treloar have hosted Flying Doctor clinics since the 1950’s.

That’s where I first met Barbara Ponton.

Barbara, 43, and her husband, Craig, had just taken over the Bordergate Truck Stop near Cockburn.

They had moved from Bribie Island in Queensland with four of their six children.

Barbara was still breast feeding her youngest, Rosie, but had a general feeling of being unwell. During a well women’s health check session, we discovered she had dangerously high blood pressure (HBP).

HBP is often called the silent killer. While some people will experience symptoms such as nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing, HPB can be a symptomless condition.

For many people, the next stage is a heart attack or a stroke.

As the RFDS women’s and child family health nurse and midwife, I regularly visit 17 clinics across a territory covering 640,000 sq. km.

And while I love to fly, it’s the ongoing contact with remote families that really makes my job special.

Apart from helping Outback women prepare for birth, my role extends across the range of women’s and children’s health – Pap smears, breast awareness, child health checks and immunisation, advice and information around antenatal and postnatal care.

The next time I saw Barbara was for a Pap smear. But again, all was not well.

She had lost weight and was again generally feeling unwell. We suggested Barbara have further tests and a subsequent scan revealed a cyst on her ovary.

It was sitting next to her bowel and in a three-month period had grown to the size of a softball. Barbara underwent immediate surgery to have it removed.

It’s lovely to see Barbara and her family now, and see them all so well.

Three of the Ponton’s children are students of the School of the Air, avoiding a 200 km twice daily drop-off-and-collect commute for their parents.

Cover letter_ Barbara and Craig Ponton, with their daughter Rosie.

Barbara Ponton with her husband, Craig, and their daughter, Rosie.

And when I see Barbara at one of our clinics, she always greets me in the same way.

“Jacquie,” she says. “You saved my life.Twice.”

I often think back to John Flynn’s ‘mantle of safety’ philosophy, that extraordinary vision he had to make sure Australians living in remote areas have access to healthcare.

Living somewhere beyond the reach of normal medical care takes a special kind of courage.

Residents of rural and remote communities continue to show poorer health outcomes than residents in metropolitan centres.

Potentially preventable hospitalisations occur at more than twice the rate in remote Australia compared to major cities.

Last year our clinics result in more than 40,200 patient contacts across our region.

Working for the RFDS is a humbling experience.

Every day we make a real difference to the lives of people in Outback areas. That’s why our work is so important, and why we rely on your help.


About Royal Flying Doctor

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been serving the Australian community for over 85 years. From humble beginnings in 1928, the RFDS now ha
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