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NSW inquiry into rural health hears woman’s dying father was treated by a ‘virtual’ doctor

A woman whose dying father was looked after by a “virtual doctor” has said the lack of proper health services in the bush has made her feel ”like we don‘t matter out here”.

Narromine retiree Vicki Kearines, 61 told a NSW parliamentary inquiry about the experience of losing her father Ronald Short, 92 to cancer while under the watch of doctors on video screens.

The inquiry also heard four patients have died in western NSW while being treated via telehealth, and all four of those deaths have been referred to the coroner.

Kearines gave evidence to a parliamentary committee in Dubbo on Wednesday that is investigating access to healthcare in rural NSW.

She said Short was treated largely via doctors who appeared on video screens at Narromine Hospital after being admitted there on Boxing Day for complications related to cancer.

“We had a laptop that was wheeled into the room,” she told the inquiry.

“You can imagine old people, hard of hearing … he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t understand.”

She said her father, who was in pain, was advised to administer morphine himself even though he was too ill to do so.

Kearines wrote in a submission to the inquiry that she found the virtual doctor system used in regional hospitals “an extremely poor system for the elderly in particular”.

“I think they’re appalling, I really do,” she said of her experiences with virtual doctors.

After the hearing in Dubbo, she told NCA NewsWire she hoped the visiting politicians would make sure people in the regions were afforded the same quality of healthcare as those who live in cities.

“It makes us feel like second class citizens,” she said.

“We’re treated like we don’t matter out here, you know, as if we’re not as important as the city people.”

She also added that her experiences with the nurses at the hospital had been “wonderful”.

“They were fantastic, working in a really difficult situation without enough staff,” she said of the nurses.

“They were brilliant, they did their very best. My anger is against the system where we don’t have a physical doctor in the hospital.”

Short died on January 4.

“It was devastating and heartbreaking evidence,” Labor MP Walt Secord said.

Narromine Hospital and the Western NSW Local Health District have been contacted for comment.

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