Service keeps care close to home after spinal cord injury
Published: 14 December 2023
A new specialist service launched at Townsville University Hospital will allow north Queenslanders living with spinal cord injuries to access expert rehabilitation closer to home.
Townsville Hospital and Health Service director of rehabilitation Dr Paul Chapman said the North Queensland Spinal Cord Injury Service (NQSCIS) was a significant investment in the region’s health.
“A spinal cord injury can be completely lifechanging and until now patients relocated to Brisbane for weeks or months to undergo intensive rehabilitation,” Dr Chapman said.
“This service gives patients access to the specialist treatment they need they need to live fulfilling and independent lives.
“I see this as an important step towards health equity for regional Queenslanders living with spinal cord injuries.”
Townsville Rehabilitation Unit patient Richelle Carta suffered a serious spinal cord injury when she dove into her parent’s backyard pool as a teenager and sustained a compression injury.
“As soon as I dove into the water I couldn’t move,” Ms Carta said.
“I was flown to the Brisbane spinal unit where I spent the next 12 months doing intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy all day every day.”
Ms Carta said the extended separation of her family during her rehabilitation took its toll. As an adult she has been a vocal advocate for specialist spinal cord injury services in north Queensland.
“It fractured our family, my parents split during my 12-month stay in the Brisbane unit,” she said.
“Families from north Queensland can also not be dislocated and separated for that long because it takes a toll.
“Having a service like this in north Queensland is really important to help patients live fulfilling independent lives.”
Before retiring last year to look after her health Ms Carta was a social worker TUH supporting families of patients after a spinal cord injury.
“Being diagnosed with a spinal cord injury is challenging because you’re walking one day and paralysed the next,” she said.
“I want people to know there is life after a spinal cord injury; I worked full time, I had two children and I looked after them with the support of my husband and carers,” she said,
“I was lucky enough to become the assistant director of social work here and I found my work very rewarding.”
Dr Chapman said the service, based at the hospital’s Townsville Rehabilitation Unit, would target patients in the Townsville Hospital and Health Service catchment as well as those living in the North West, Cairns and Hinterland, Torres and Cape and Mackay health service areas.
“Recovering from a spinal cord injury is a lifelong journey, which requires ongoing rehabilitation,” he said.
“Our goal is to improve patient experience and outcomes by providing rehabilitation care closer to home and avoid adding additional pressure to families and individuals already going through a hard experience.”
NQSCIS team leader Alli McClean said the new service would work with the Queensland Spinal Cord Injury Service in Brisbane to ensure timely transfer of patients between the services and allow for patients to return to north Queensland for rehabilitation quicker.
“What is really exciting about this service is that it is designed to capture every spinal cord injury patient across north Queensland,” she said.
“The service brings together medical specialists, nurses, and allied health staff to provide specialist care to public and private patients across the region to optimise early intervention and prevent secondary complications.
“It also includes a multi-disciplinary outpatient clinic offering life-long follow up as well as outreach and telehealth service to support rural and remote patients across the area.
“Something that sets NQSCIS apart is the focus on providing culturally safe service for our First Nations people in their communities through support from our Indigenous Hospital Liaison Officer.”