The Valley’s heart disease problem

Health: Dr Derk Pol wants to improve Gippsland cardiovascular outcomes. photograph supplied

Alyssa Fritzlaff

GIPPSLAND’S rates of heart disease are significantly higher than other areas nationally,
new data reveals.

Due to a melting pot of risk factors, the region has a coronary heart disease mortality rate significantly higher than the national average.

According to the Heart Foundation, Gippsland has a mortality rate of 75 per 100,000 people in comparison to an average of 65.5 per 100,000 nationally.

The Latrobe Valley has an even higher mortality rate, currently sitting at 86.9 per 100,000 people. Dr Derk Pol, of Gippsland Cardiology Service, said that of all the possible contributors to cardiovascular disease Gippsland has the “worst mix”.

Gippsland ranks high in risk factors such as having an older population, lower than average education levels, high unemployment, and less internet connectivity.

Additionally, high rates of uncontrolled high blood pressure, obesity, inactive lifestyles, high rates of smoking and diabetes also put people living in the region at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

Having grown up in Gippsland, Dr Pol is especially passionate about making sure local people receive the best care possible, without having to travel hours to receive it.

Dr Pol has spent time analysing Gippsland’s situation, and feels there are currently an
inadequate number of services and health professionals available locally for those suffering with cardiovascular conditions.

“We have significantly more disease on average compared to other parts of Victoria and other parts of Australia… it doesn’t matter which data set you’re looking at – the Heart Foundation, or the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing – we are not doing that well,” he said.

“The crude rate of death (actual number deaths), in the area of Moe, Newborough, Morwell compared to Narre Warren – which is a slightly younger population than Moe, Newborough, Morwell – is 352 compared to Narre Warren’s 88.5.”

“We are double the rate of death compared to Australia, and compared to the suburb of Narre Warren, we are about four times higher… and there are multiple contributors leading to that.”

Dr Pol said that even when Gippsland’s crude rate of death data is standardised for age, the region still sits higher than most others.

“Gippsland is pretty bad, but it appears that Moe, Newborough, Morwell is probably the epicentre of more cardiovascular outcomes when we compare it to the rest of Australia and other suburbs around Morwell,” Dr Pol said.

“When you have that mix (of risk factors) you need to have the capacity of service to look after that, and that’s definitely something we need to develop over the next 10 years. Latrobe Regional Hospital is looking to expand its cardiac services to address these issues.

“Our rates of disease is higher, our rates of hospitalisation is higher, our risk factors for disease is higher, but at this point in time we have actually less resources to treat that.”

Dr Pol and Dr Laura Selkrig set up Gippsland Cardiology Service in 2021, in a bid to improve local cardiology outcomes.

“We have seen over 2000 patients in under 12 months,” he said.

Dr Pol and Dr Selkrig are currently the only two cardiologists that live and working in Gippsland. The pair work in partnership with Maryvale Private Hospital and Latrobe Regional Health.

“We are really trying to start a coordinated service where patients in Gippsland, will have the same quality of doctors that they would receive if they travelled an hour and a half down the road,” he said.

He hopes that in time, and with access to adequate cardiovascular care locally, the outcomes for people living in Gippsland may improve.

Dr Pol is hoping to set-up and coordinate an acute heart attack service from the new cardiac cathlab at Latrobe Regional Hospital over the new few years.

People can manage their own cardiac health by maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recommends not smoking, eating a balanced diet and regular physical activity for prevention of cardiovascular disease.