Reaching youth with free healthcare

‘HBU?' In text speak it means ‘how about you?' and for young people in the Western Bay of Plenty who can't afford to see a doctor, it's proving to be a life-saver.

The Western Bay of Plenty's Mobile Youth Health Unit ‘HBU' visits local communities three nights a week, providing much-needed free medical services for young people.

The service, funded through the Western Bay of Plenty Public Health Organisation, has seen more than 8000 people treated by a doctor, nurse and youth worker during the past eight years and is celebrating a renewal and increase of its funding from July 1.

“We're really happy with that,” says Ngai Te Rangi CEO Paora Stanley.

Run by Te Runanga O Ngai Te Rangi Iwi Trust, the HBU operates three nights a week in Katikati, Welcome Bay, Arataki, Merivale and Papamoa.

“The key difference is that it's primarily for young people,” says Paora, “and it's aimed at those who can't afford to pay for healthcare.

“Many aren't enrolled with a PHO because they can't afford to, or they're working during the day, or their bills are too high at other GPs so they can't go back until they pay their bill.

“It's not a 15-minute consultation like you get with your own doctor,” says Paora. “When you walk out is when it finishes.”

Why do people call it HBU?

“When we first started, the doctor would greet everybody coming in and they'd say to him ‘Hey doc, how are you?' The doctor would reply ‘Fine, how about you?' In text language ‘how about you' is ‘HBU',” says Paora.

People line up in the cold wind and dark waiting to see Dr Murray Hay who has been the HBU doctor for the past eight years. Over that time the unit has rushed people to hospital and called ambulances in.

There was once a gang fight outside, with the team racing across the road to pick up the bodies and bring them in to treat.

“In my mind, in terms of reaching at-risk people, this project is reaching a sector of the population that nobody else is reaching,” says Murray.

“There was some research done that shows there may be as many as 500,000 people in New Zealand who are unable to afford to go to the doctor and access the medical services that they need.

“We aim to reach young people, particularly aged 10-24. They are more vulnerable because they may not have support or homes, and are in transition between childhood and adulthood. They may be just lost and don't have the resources to be able to make it in life and need extra support.

“Some are struggling with depression and anxiety and are especially vulnerable.”

Paora says Murray's efforts are “stunning”.

“He doesn't need to be there. He owns two doctors' practices anyway. He's there because he believes in it and because he wants to do something.”

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