Jaime Johnson with daughter, Krystal, 4, found she could no longer visit Skin Alert.
Jaime Johnson with daughter, Krystal, 4, found she could no longer visit Skin Alert. Alistair Brightman

Bay's skin cancer clinic closes

AFTER more than a year of trying to hire new doctors, Hervey Bay Skin Alert will shut its doors for good next month.

The Pialba clinic, which has been operating on limited staff, will close on December 23 – alarmingly, right in the peak of summer.

And with statistics showing that one in two Queenslanders will develop skin cancer at some stage in their life and about 300 Queenslanders die from the disease every year, the move has Fraser Coast residents worried.

When Jaime Johnson entered the clinic, she was told she could no longer get her regular skin checks due to the staff shortage.

She says she was “horrified”.

Ms Johnson, a Bay resident of 15 years, was told that the clinic was so short-staffed that not only could it not take on any new patients, but it was turning away regular ones as well.

“Since we live in such a hot state and cancer is a big concern, I was horrified that there was no one available in our Skin Alert clinic,” Ms Johnson said.

“It’s ridiculous.

“I go out in the sun a lot and Skin Alert picked up on a mole on my foot and told me to keep an eye on it. That wouldn’t have happened at my normal GP.”

The Chronicle was told that Skin Alert had four doctors working in the Hervey Bay clinic before one retired late last year.

Another was going to be on leave for all of 2010.

The third doctor was on sick leave and not expected to return to work until early next year.

The fourth was booked out until August of next year.

But, just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, practice manager Rhianna Crosthwaite late last week confirmed that the business would be closing down for good.

“We’ve been advertising for a doctor since November last year and we just haven’t been able to fill the position.

“We’ve had the odd person inquire but no one wants to move to Hervey Bay.

“They ask how far it is from Brisbane and when you tell them it’s three-and-a-half hours they say that’s too far.

“We’ve been told it doesn’t make the clinic sustainable to re-open in January.”

Patients seeking another specialist skin cancer clinic would have to travel to Gympie or Bundaberg, she said.

“Now that’s quite far to drive for a person who doesn’t usually leave Hervey Bay ... especially when the majority of population is elderly.”

Ms Crosthwaite said it had been difficult to have to turn patients away.

“We get abused every day on the phone,” she said.

“People don’t understand, they think the doctor just doesn’t want to see them. It’s very difficult.”

Lucy Smith, prevention and early detection co-ordinator with the Cancer Council Queensland, said our state had the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.

She encouraged people to visit their GPs for checks.

But it was Ms Johnson’s doctor who originally referred her to Skin Alert.

“They told me to go to a GP, but it was my GP who sent me there,” the mother of three said.

“I was angry at the fact the (Skin Alert) building is there but people don’t realise it’s not available.”

The Cancer Council advises people to check their entire body every three months.

“Learn to know what is normal for your skin and be alert to any new or changing moles, freckles or spots,” Ms Smith said.

SUN TIPS

SLIP on clothes with sleeves and collar

SLOP on sunscreen (broad-spectrum, water resistant, SPF 30+). Apply 20 minutes before going out into the sun and re-apply every two hours.

SLAP on a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire hat.

SEEK shade when you are outdoors

SLIDE on sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 1067:2003)



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