Taking health checks to the heart of QLD

In a sweeping reform to combat and prevent lung health diseases among Queensland’s mine workers, the state government will send a health truck across the regions this year.

Queensland’s focus on reducing cases of lung diseases has culminated in the development of a 25-metre, two-trailer truck that will conduct checks throughout regional areas in 2020.

The prime mover is on a mission: to bring lung health checks to past and present mine and quarry workers.

Queensland’s contract went to Heart of Australia, a program that Brisbane cardiologist of 10 years, Rolf Gomes, founded to bring specialist services to people who have to travel long distances to access health services.

This project will be the fifth truck that Heart of Australia has built.

“We started in 2014 with one mobile medical clinic and three cardiologists. Since that time the services have grown from five communities across Queensland to 16 and soon-to-be 25 communities, providing a whole range of medical specialist services,” Gomes tells Safe to Work.

“We currently have 23 specialists who are involved with the program, not just cardiologists, but also gastroenterologists, neurologists, endocrinologists and so forth.”

With a five-year track record of delivering specialist services to The Bush and having treated over 8000 patients and potentially saved over 350 lives, the program’s capability has expanded yet again, reflecting the pace and practice of modern medicine.

The program not only aims to provide access to medical specialists, but also medical imaging and radiology services delivered on the back of a truck. This will assist patients and health practitioners with the early diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of health conditions.

“We often rely on medical imaging to help diagnose conditions or monitor our patients’ progress, and we’d been thinking for some time how we could evolve our program – not just to provide specialty services but also radiology services,” Gomes says.

“Here’s a very simple example. If you live thousands of kilometres away from Brisbane and experience a cough that won’t go away, a general practitioner (GP) would likely suggest you have a CT (computed tomography) scan on your chest.

“But if you live that far, need to take care of the farm or do not have enough money to make the travel, you’d make up excuses not to go, i.e. ‘There was a dust storm a month ago’, ‘I was spraying the crops’, etc.

“But with things like lung cancer, you want to know about it when it’s only the size of a pea, not when it’s grown into the size of a tennis ball.”

Simply put, bringing simple services like CT imaging and chest X-rays to remote regions could mean life and death.

“What we need to do is ensure no one slips through the cracks. Anyone who’s in an occupation where they’re put at risk should have access to screening services,” Gomes says.

“By having a mobile service that provides comprehensive health screening, including an opportunity to access a one stop shop where people can have their X-rays and CT scans in one location, and potentially on the same day, significantly reduces their burden in terms of cost, inconvenience and time away from work.”

Heart of Australia has considerable mobilisation experience in bringing health screening facilities to the bush and mining sector.

Two of Heart of Australia’s mobile clinics on the road.


The service looks at the health of miners not just from the perspective of their physical health (such as dust exposure, black lungs and silicosis), but also the psychosocial aspect.

Heart of Australia’s contract with the Queensland Government involves the design, construction and operation of the mobile health service.

The question now is, how will large equipment such as a CT scanner and X-ray machine be fitted in the truck?

“The truck will be built and fitted out in Queensland. In the coming months, we will engage very closely with government, employers, employees and unions in designing and implementing the most efficient and beneficial service,” Gomes says.

“We’d like to get as close as we can to where the patients are likely to be.

“We’ll be looking very closely at the logistical aspects of the service: the suitable parking spots relative to the mine’s location, the health and safety requirements to move in and out of those locations and how to add value to existing services.”

The team operating the mobile service will include doctors, nurses, radiographers and a truck driver. It will also provide respiratory and hearing protection fit testing.

The Queensland Government plans to cover the coal fields across the Bowen and Surat basins, the north west minerals province, and the opal and gem fields in the west and south-west of the state.

“Our goal is to make sure we can deliver a finished prototype by the end of the year, as well as design a comprehensive and safe program from an occupational health point of view,” Gomes says.

“In addition, we’ll work closely with stakeholders and the community to ensure services are well received and continue to be supported moving forward.”

The service is part of the Queensland Government’s initiative to heighten protection of mine workers.

“This mobile screening service will be taking important testing to quarry workers and miners where they live and work to support the early detection and prevention of mine dust lung diseases like black lung and silicosis,” Queensland’s Assistant State Development Minister Julieanne Gilbert explains during launch of the initiative.

“The 25-metre two-trailer truck is projected to clock about 50,000 kilometres annually, delivering chest X-rays and respiratory checks.”

In addition, the government also offers free respiratory health checks for miners when they start in the mining industry, when they leave and at least every five years while they are working. Retired or former coal, mineral mine and quarry workers have access to the same free checks.

Medical professionals who provide compulsory health checks and take X-rays are also given special training.

To Gomes, the mobilisation of health services, such as the heart trucks, indicates the decentralisation of health care and a step towards equitable access to healthcare for all Australians regardless of postcode.

“Technology has become more adaptable and Internet capacity and road networks in remote regions have improved significantly. We can now mobilise many health services, and by doing so deliver tremendous benefits to patients who live outside of the city, as well as support employers in meeting their obligations to local employees,” he concludes.

This article also appears in the July-August issue of Safe to Work.

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