Bulk-billing cardiologist honoured

Dr John England

Dr John England

With controversy about exorbitant fees charged by some medical specialists, it is perhaps fitting that a bulk-billing cardiologist is honoured in this year's Queen's Birthday list.

Heart specialist Dr John England, OAM, has been practising at Katoomba Hospital since 1977. He also has a private practice in Katoomba and another at Mudgee.

Dr England said his award, for services to medicine as a cardiologist, was "a surprise" because he was a "country doctor" and not a "professor or one of those fancy people in Sydney".

Dr England has long been a champion of Katoomba hospital, lobbying both sides of politics to get some of the facilities taken for granted in the city - an MRI scanner, cancer clinic, palliative care, mental health, maternity unit, dementia assessment unit.

"I have always hoped that if you have the facilities, we could attract more doctors," he said.

He also has a personal insight into one major heart issue - he has a pacemaker, fitted in the 1970s after he contracted a virus.

To help patients understand that world, Dr England started a pacemaker/defibrillator patient support group which meets on the second Friday of every month at the Lawson Bowling Club.

He even organised the Pacemaker Olympics in 1999 (logo - five entwined hearts, like the Olympic rings), with contestants with pacemakers coming to the Mountains to compete in lawn bowls, bushwalking, dancing and story writing.

It was some of these stories - the experiences of real patients - that he used to write Kickstart - Recharge your life with a pacemaker or defibrillator. The book has been republished, more than 8,500 copies in all.

The bulk billing is something that has just "evolved", Dr England said.

"A lot of people I see are retired, they're not working. And as you go west, country people aren't doing so well at the moment."

He has bulk billed 100 per cent in Mudgee and probably 95 per cent in Katoomba.

"It's very sad to see people who can't afford to keep up their private health insurance ... then get billed the gap. I try to find doctors who don't charge excessive amounts. It's part of the country nature rather than the city," he said.

Dr England said he really wanted to acknowledge what a privilege it has been to help so many of my patients as part of a cardiology team,

"But my main support has been my wife, Di."