Planning a trip to Planned Parenthood?

Family Planning NSW (FPNSW) is a health service that provides low cost, wholesale billed reproductive and sexual health services. Of the five locations, two are regional: Newcastle and Dubbo. The latter has mobile clinics in Nyngan and Cobar. Three are in Sydney; Penrith, Fairfield and the Newington Clinic – which until this year was previously located in Ashfield.

The suburb of Newington (not to be confused with Private Boys’ School) is located between Sydney Olympic Park and Silverwater Correctional Complex in Silverwater. The official opening of the relocated clinic in Newington was announced on January 5 this year on the FPNSW mailing list, which created a day clinic and more space for more services than the previous location.

I was drawn to the invitation phases of the email – “Our new facility now includes state-of-the-art clinics, including a day intervention unit, allowing us to expand the types of services available to you.” It is important that people have a range of choices and services to choose from, and it seems positive that the organization has decided to move in this direction.

“Our new site is easy to get to, with ample parking and public transport routes available,” suggested email. A helpful map showed the bus routes of three different train lines, illustrating what appeared to be a very accessible location for the greater city area.

When I attempted to get to this location using public transport from my home in the city of Canterbury Bankstown, it took me two o’clock travel 12 km. Combined with the punctuality of medical appointments, the duration of the appointment and the return trip, this adds up to more than 5 hours. Suffice it to say, that’s not an accessible time frame for many people with day jobs, caregiving responsibilities, or general life appointments.

The map in Figure 1 shows three public transport options:

Option 1 shows that the 544 bus from Auburn station is 17 minutes door to door. It comes once an hour between 10 p.m. and 4 p.m. More frequent services begin at 4 p.m., allowing patients to arrive to knock on the clinic’s closed doors.

Google Maps suggests an alternative from Auburn Station by taking the train to Parramatta and taking the 525 bus (41 minutes), or walking for 49 minutes depending on suitable and more frequent services.

Option 2 is bus line 526 from Rhodes station. This service operates twice an hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Again Google Maps suggests taking a train to another station (Strathfield) to catch a more frequent bus service.

Option 3 suggests taking bus line 525 or 526 towards Parramatta or Rhodes respectively, and departs 4 times per hour from Olympic Park Station. However, trains must be changed at Lidcombe as there are no direct trains from town or Parramatta to SOP.

An unadvertised option is the Bridj on-demand public transport option which serves areas from Burwood to Silverwater. Bridj is an on-demand bus service booked by users on smart phones using an app and card payment details. A number of minibuses operate in a certain area to pick up and drop off travelers, much like a ride-sharing service. However, this service area is divided into two zones. The eastern area ends at Sydney Olympic Park, but includes many stations on the T2 and T9 train lines. The West Area includes Lidcombe Station and Family Planning NSW itself. Although the ride costs only $2.65 without a concession card, individuals should take two asynchronous services from most nearby served stations.

I asked a sample of 18-24 year olds about their experiences with reproductive health services. Many had not used NSW family planning; instead, they had used the nearest service. Responses given included GPs or clinics within a 10-15 minute journey from their home. A responder noted that it was a 10-minute drive from his home, but nearly an hour by bus to reach the service.

Another issue with access to SFPSN was the availability of appointments. Patients can wait months for a consultation, forcing them to book and pay for services closer to home, which may not provide the same level of care or treatment as SFPNS.

For patients who manage to secure a reservation at FPNSW and are willing to endure long journeys, they are faced with infrequent public transport services which have resulted in missed sought-after appointments.

Even in the two cities in the state that have FPNSW clinics, access to these clinics is significantly limited due to their location. Over 30% of NSW’s population lives outside of one of these two lucky towns and has considerably less access to FPNSW clinics than residents of places like Canterbury Bankstown. With such limited services, people in the regions have to pay for services they may not be able to afford, travel excessive distances or settle for services that do not meet their needs.

I dream of there being bulk billing sexual health clinics on every corner with walk-in appointments. Until then, I’ll see if my mother will drive me.

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