East Gippsland satellite assessment clinic offers rural clients access to a vital service

Steph Tamblyn is the region's chief radiographer with the Gippsland Primary Health Network. Photos: Contributed

Stefan Bradley

BreastScreen Victoria has successfully trialled a satellite assessment clinic in East Gippsland as part of an initiative to improve access to health services for regional and rural women.

The pilot program reduces travel times for women in Victoria’s east recalled for further tests after their initial breast screen.

Clients living in regional and rural parts of Gippsland may travel long distances to visit Gippsland BreastScreen Reading and Assessment Service (RAS) to attend a follow-up appointment.

While most women called back to BreastScreen do not have breast cancer, the prospect of further testing and a lengthy journey can cause some worry.

This pop-up assessment clinic, hosted at Bairnsdale Regional Health Service, allowed clients to access this vital health service much closer to home – alleviating anxiety and the burden of a long journey.

Gippsland BreastScreen acting program manager Kelly Giersch said clients from East Gippsland areas such as Mallacoota, Orbost and Omeo often had to travel all the way to Traralgon for a breast screening.

“That’s a long way to go for something that takes about half an hour,” Ms Giersch told the Gippsland Times.

“Bringing this essential service to clients in far East Gippsland reduces the stress and anxiety known to be experienced by those recalled for further assessment.

“At the longest point in Gippsland, it saves clients a 700km or 10-hour road trip.

“It’s different for those who live in Sale for example, who can take a 45-minute trip to Traralgon, and it’s an easy drive.”

The pop-up assessment clinic was organised by Gippsland BreastScreen and hosted by the Bairnsdale Regional Health Service last year on November 26, December 2 and December 10. It was fully staffed with radiographers, nurse counsellors and a radiologist, and clients invited to the clinic had access to any additional recommended tests based on their initial screens.

The trial also coincided with the Mobile Screening Service’s two-yearly visit to the East Gippsland region, so clients who screened on the BreastScreen van that were recalled didn’t have to travel far for their assessment.

One client who screened on the mobile service in Orbost said “from the day I had my mammogram on the breast screen bus to the prompt follow-up appointment at Bairnsdale, I received comprehensive care and treatment from the whole team”.

“It was so much better only having to travel to Bairnsdale,” the client said.

After visiting the satellite assessment clinic, clients have the option of receiving their results online via Telehealth.

The pilot project was a finalist in the Gippsland Primary Health Awards in the ‘Better Access to Health Services’ category, and while it ultimately did not win, Ms Giersch was still happy with the nomination.

“We were really honoured that our project was worthwhile, and they thought it was a good initiative for our clients,” Ms Giersch said.

“We want to provide a fantastic service for our clients, regardless of where they’re located. We are working on the evaluation of the project now.

“Based on the positive feedback from staff, clinicians and clients, we will be recommending this becomes an ongoing program, and we will be looking at other areas where it would be suitable.”

Ms Giersch said that for women in the age group, the best time to get a breast screening is “anytime”.

“Our target age group is 50 to 74, but we do take bookings for those over 40,” she said.

“For women under 40, we recommend they go see their GP.”

Appointments can be made by calling 13 20 50 or visiting breastscreen.org.au

Gippsland PHN – Steph Tamblyn, Chief Radiographer Gippsland reviewing screen

Gippsland PHN – Steph Tamblyn, Chief Radiographer Gippsland welcoming client

Gippsland Primary Health Network’s chief radiographer Steph Tamblyn with a client.