Westmead emergency docs travel 1000km to lend a hand

Dr Michael Haddock and Dr Kavita Varshney at the emergency department screening station outside Albury Base Hospital.

When a hospital on the Victoria-NSW border put out the call for help, two emergency physicians from Westmead Hospital answered.

Dr Kavita Varshney and Dr Michael Haddock took a 1000-kilometre road trip to Albury Base Hospital last week to assist in the emergency department as many Victoria-based staff have been unable to work there due to the border closure or connection to positive cases.

They were joined by three other senior emergency doctors from Royal North Shore and St Vincent’s hospitals, giving the local doctors time for a much-needed week off.

Their generous gesture was Dr Haddock’s first taste of regional Australia, having worked solely in metropolitan Sydney hospitals since moving to Australia from the UK in 2008.

“Everyone was very welcoming, helpful and happy to have us there,” Dr Haddock said.

“It was very different to Westmead Hospital, but similar to the smaller UK hospitals I’d trained in, where everyone knows everyone and is on first-name terms.

“The clinical work is pretty much the same everywhere you go. The most difficult part was being dropped into a new system and learning the geography – sometimes the patients were 100 kilometres away and didn’t have access to much help between there and the hospital.”

The regional posting was more familiar to Dr Varshney, who has done stints in Wagga Wagga, Orange and Bateman’s Bay.

She even caught up with a former intern who is now the head of orthopaedics at Albury Base Hospital.

“The highlight was everyone’s appreciation and collegiality. They were so happy to have the support of NSW Health in a challenging time,” Dr Varshney said.

“It was an unfamiliar system but everyone helped, and it was a good experience for their junior doctors having access to five senior emergency medicine specialists.

“They also have paediatric patients which we don’t see many of here at Westmead, so it was a nice opportunity to see children and use those skills.”

Western Sydney Local Health District chief executive Graeme Loy thanked the doctors for going out of their way to help their border colleagues.

“This is a fantastic example of the way our amazing staff rally around each other and support each other through difficult times,” Graeme said.

“I also want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of our Victorian colleagues who have worked tirelessly to manage the outbreak in that state. It is pleasing to see that hard work pay off with COVID-19 case numbers dramatically lower. It’s nice that our staff were able to contribute to this response.”