There’s something pretty wonderful about a medical clinic that comes to a corner near you! The Freo Street Doctor does just that and provides access to high quality, non-judgemental health care to patients, many of whom are homeless. The medical practice is fully accredited to RACGP standards, there are six doctors behind the wheel and Dr Neetha Purushotham is one of them.

“It’s a great service and the patient population we see would find it quite difficult to go anywhere else. Many of them are not all that aware of their own health needs and, to be honest, probably don’t think about it all that much,” she said.

“Usually they’ll have plenty of other things to worry about.”

“You just can’t pigeon-hole these patients. I can’t really expect with any degree of confidence that they’ll do what I suggest. I see them for a short time on a Friday and that’s a tiny sliver out of their lives. And, quite often, their lives can be pretty complicated.”

“I keep any frustration at bay by picking my battles and getting a lot of joy when I have a small victory. It’s great when a patient comes back to have a dressing changed or a mum brings their child back for a scheduled review.”

The network works

Neetha’s working week is a combination of GP surgery consultations and the Freo Street Doctor. And, for the latter, Medical Forum can take some credit.

“I work in a clinic in Armadale four days a week and every Friday in the mobile van. I was looking for a bit of variety in my work, I spotted the advertisement in your magazine and I thought it would be a great thing to do!”

“I really like the patients. This job stretches my brain and that’s a good thing.”

“Often a different approach is needed because their expectations of life vary enormously. And, for many of them, the state of their own health is merely an ‘add-on’.”

Some workplace situations can be both demanding and difficult, but Neetha has no qualms fronting up for work on a Friday morning.

“I’ve never had any problems with personal safety here at the Freo Street Doctor. It’s just never been an issue for me.”

Managing the precarious

“We have a social worker who vets the patients and if any are under the obvious influence of drugs or alcohol we ask them to come back when they’re feeling a little better. Most of our patients are really nice and they’re so grateful for the service.”

Neetha trained in India before coming to Perth to reconnect with former university colleagues.

“I’m the first, and only, doctor in my family. I did my postgraduate work in the UK, worked there for about 11 years and came here to see university friends who I hadn’t seen for a long time. I really like Perth and Margaret River and plan on spending a few more years here.”

“After that, who knows?”

“What I do know is that I love this job. I hope that a lot my colleagues read this story and might consider giving the Street Doctor a try. I’m sure they’d really enjoy helping these patients.”

Marina Trevino, Manager Community Medical Services at Black Swan Health, is the organisational face behind the Freo Street Doctor (FSD) program. It provides more than 2000 consultations a year and the majority present with more than one medical condition. The suburbs covered by the program are numerous (see below) and a salient statistic is that in excess of 90% of clients use FSD as their primary healthcare provider.

Growing services

“The service has been going for 13 years and it’s developed to the point that we now have clinics five days a week at multiple locations. We use two vans, there are six doctors on the books and we’re always looking for more.”

“A lot of our patients are homeless with a high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well. Many of them are socially isolated and often feel very uncomfortable attending a conventional medical clinic. Most Freo Street Doctor clinics have a GP, nurse and support worker in attendance.”

Katrina and Leanne sat on chairs under the shade waiting for their appointment and were more than happy to sing the praises of the Fremantle Street Doctor.

“I’m here to support Leanne,” said Katrina. “I live quite close by and I’ve been here a few times now. I also go to see Dr Davies (Dr Andrew Davies at Homeless Healthcare) in Leederville but this is so handy for me. The clinic is wonderful because the doctors spend a lot of time with you and go out of their way to help.”

“A lot of people are really struggling and it’s good to have someone who will just sit and listen.”

“This is my first time here so I’m a bit nervous,” said Leanne. “I’ve got some medical problems and it’s difficult for me to work. Hopefully the doctor can help me with a health assessment and I’ll be able to get the pension. I’m 65 years old and it’s not easy looking for work at my age.”

Fast Facts

  • Three-hour clinics are held Monday-Friday across the suburbs of Fremantle, Cockburn and Melville.
  • No appointment is necessary and all consultations are bulk-billed.
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