A COPD sufferer in Goulburn says he has been impacted by bushfire smoke and lack of health staff to assist

Denis Lawless at home with his portable oxygen compensator that is not working. Photo David Cole.

Denis Lawless at home with his portable oxygen compensator that is not working. Photo David Cole.

Air quality in part of Australia has topped world's worst lists recently, but even the recommended P2 masks provide little relief for some.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) sufferers like Goulburn's Denis Lawless admits he's struggling.

The 72-year-old has been suffering from COPD (formerly known as emphysema) and other conditions for the past decade.

A former army commando, Mr Lawless manages pretty well on his own most of the time with oxygen tanks and oxygen compensators, but he has found the last month very challenging.

This has been exacerbated, not only by the bushfire smoke, but also by what he considers is a lack of outreach care from his local health service.

"I battle on as much as I can myself," he said.

"But we have had the worst air pollution in the world for weeks now and no-one from the local health service has rung me to see how I am coping.

"The advice I received in a letter from Baptist Care was to wear a P2 mask and stay indoors. Well, I can't wear one of those masks because I am a carbon-dioxide accumulator. If I have the P2 mask on I will be breathing carbon-dioxide back in so I can't use it.

"Also, I try to stay indoors but I have had to go out to attend some appointments for various things."

Mr Lawless usually had regular appointments with the Cardio-Pulmonary Unit at the Goulburn Base Hospital.

But over the Christmas period, his appointments with the unit were cancelled with no any notice or follow-up contact.

"My last appointment was on December 2. I had an appointment booked for January 1 but they never turned up and there was no phone call about it," he said.

"The staff in that unit usually work 20 days a month, with about five visits a day, so I imagine are about 100 COPD sufferers in Goulburn that they attend.

"No one from the health service has rung me to see how I am, therefore I am assuming no-one else has been rung either.

"It is not right. They are under-funded and under-staffed at that unit. This unit has done nothing for me since December 2 last year.

"I'd like to see that department funded and staffed properly. My disease does not have holidays.

"The hospital should have back-filled those staff. It's not only for me that I am speaking up, but also the other sufferers who may not speak up."

Mr Lawless has seen his GP in the interim, but this meant he had to go out and when he presented he had turned a shade of blue, due to a lack of oxygen.

"When I saw my GP I had turned blue," he said.

"I try to be as self-sufficient as I can. I have oxygen compensators and also an oxygen tank, but if we have a blackout the tank only lasts about 4 hours, so I have to make my way to hospital if that happens."

His portable oxygen compensator is also not working at the moment.

The Goulburn Post put in questions to the Local Health District, specifically whether the health service can provide extra staff to assist COPD sufferers in the community when the usual staff are away and in this time of daily smoke hazards?

We also asked why there are so few staff in this unit at the moment?

A Southern NSW Local Health District spokesperson replied that Patients with COPD "can access Goulburn health services via the hospital's emergency department."

"COPD patients discharged from the hospital are followed up through community health services. During times of emergency, the hospital and health service provide additional assistance to the most vulnerable COPD patients," the spokesperson said.

"Community health staff have been in contact with Mr Lawless to enquire about his wellbeing and offer assistance."

Goulburn Base Hospital is currently fully staffed. Some staff were directly affected by the recent bushfires but were immediately replaced with contingent staff.

This story Smoke, lack of medical support leaves 72yo struggling to breathe first appeared on Goulburn Post.