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It was a chance encounter in June 2020, during a semester in London for the final classes of his medical degree, that gave Sydney doctor Daniel Nour the idea for the project which has come to fill most of his time since.
The 26-year-old, who is the 2022 NSW Young Australian of the Year, came to the aid of a man having a seizure outside a train station.
Dr Daniel Nour was named the 2022 NSW Young Australian of the Year for his work with Sydney’s homeless.Credit:Louise Kennerley
Speaking with the man’s friends, many of whom were homeless, as they waited for paramedics, Dr Nour was struck by their disdain for doctors.
“It was a real slap in the face for someone who had just spent six years of their life studying medicine,” he said. “People would rather avoid treatment because they didn’t trust we cared, or they were worried about judgment.”
Returning to Sydney as COVID-19 cases rose and restrictions were reintroduced, Dr Nour was uncertain about whether it was the right time to try to start a mobile medical clinic for the homeless.
“I remember at our first meeting it was the elephant in the room but, really, in light of COVID it was needed more than ever,” he said.
Over the past 18 months, the Street Side Medics team has grown to 250 GPs, nurses, doctors and allied health professionals, who visit Woolloomooloo, Brookvale, Manly and Parramatta each week to treat rough sleepers and people at risk of homelessness.
During a period when the city’s health workers have been significantly stretched – Dr Nour is a resident at Royal North Shore Hospital, working in intensive care – volunteers at the not-for-profit have provided free care to hundreds at shelters and food vans.
Dr Nour said the aim of the service was to provide primary healthcare for people with no fixed address.
“People we see say they don’t feel comfortable going to a doctor: they say, ‘I look dishevelled; if I walk into a medical centre in Potts Point, people will wonder why I am there, they’ll say I smell.’ There’s an embarrassment there,” he said.
Then there is the logistics of making an appointment at a GP, and providing your medical history in a short window.
“But we go and set up alongside services where these people are getting food and where they are comfortable, we don’t have to see them in an appointment time.”
Patients have ranged from a 12-year-old living with his mum in their car who had a significant cut from falling off a scooter to men in their 70s and 80s with prostate issues, Dr Nour said.
The most common ailments are exposure to the elements and associated health problems, poorly managed or neglected chronic conditions such as obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and emphysema, sexually transmitted infections and dental infections.
“We have a guy who sees us every week at Woolloomooloo because he’s a type 1 diabetic. Before that he hadn’t had insulin for nine months because he couldn’t afford it,” Dr Nour said.
The van is staffed by a driver, a GP and a medical support officer – often a nurse or non-GP doctor – and sometimes also an allied health practitioner, such as a pharmacist, physiotherapist or podiatrist.
With a pharmacy on the van, Dr Nour said an advantage of the breadth of skills brought by the volunteers is that often a patient can receive multiple elements of care on-site.
“If someone’s coming in with palpitations, we can do an ECG and tell them definitively, we don’t need to send them elsewhere,” he said.
Initially funded through Dr Nour’s savings and donations, the organisation has just purchased its second van with a NSW Health grant, which it plans to use across Newcastle, Wollongong and the Central Coast.
Dr Nour will deliver the NSW 2022 Australia Day address on Wednesday. The Young Australian of the Year will be announced on January 26.
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