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Frequently Asked Questions FAQs

Is the medical chest only for emergencies?

There is still a misconception that people are only permitted to use the chest in an emergency. This is not true. The majority of the drugs supplied in the medical chests are there to treat non-emergency medical conditions. The whole concept of putting medical chests into remote locations is to save the users travelling excessive distances to see a doctor for conditions that can be managed remotely. It may prevent the RFDS from making unnecessary flights to these locations.

However, as the chest does contain items to manage emergencies, the presence of this “mini pharmacy” provides enormous peace of mind for many.

Do I need any special training to have or use an RFDS medical chest?

The chest is designed so that you do not need any specific training to use it. However we would encourage all users to have completed a Senior First Aid Certificate and there are many aspects of managing the chest, as a custodian, about which you should be clear. We have a dedicated Medical Chest Officer who is available to provide comprehensive advice to chest custodians by telephone, or personally if you are able to visit our Jandakot base.

Our doctors and nurses can provide guidance on use of the chest at some clinic sites. We would encourage you to speak to the Medical Chest Officer in the first instance.

We also have a brief demonstration online e-Learning package you can view which outlines your responsibilities for Medical Chest Management.

Can I use the medical chest for my animals?

 Medical chests are for human use only. If the health and wellbeing of your pets or livestock is important we advise you discuss your needs with a vet who can supply a separate range of appropriate medication.

Can I call my local GP, or a doctor who is a friend, to prescribe items from the chest, instead of calling the RFDS?

No. As the custodian of pharmaceutical items we are supplying to you, we expect you to contact our Service for approval to use them. While it isn't illegal to have some of our pharmaceutical items prescribed by another registered medical practitioner, you will have to obtain a written prescription from them to replace the item. This will be at your expense. We are unable to reliably verify if a drug has been prescribed by a doctor outside of the RFDS and we do not receive an appropriate verification code.

Nurses are not entitled to prescribe items from the chest which would normally require a doctor's prescription. RFDS doctors are familiar with the items in the medical chests. The service is free and available 24 hours a day.

What is the difference between a subsidized and a non-subsidized medical chest?

The RFDS receives Commonwealth funding to provide the replenishment of chest items free of charge to remote locations where there is a duty of care to the public. These subsidized locations include outback schools, stations, nursing posts, indigenous communities and roadhouses.

Non-subsidized chestholders are generally commercial operators who have exclusive use of their chests, such as mining companies and charter vessels. These organizations pay for the replenishment of chest contents.

The non-subsidized component of the medical chest program in WA has recently been reviewed (see next question – Can we buy a chest?)

Can we buy a chest?

In the past we have provided medical chests to corporate/commercial users of the service in remote locations on a full cost-recovery basis, as non-subsidized chests. We are now only providing chests to long-term corporate users on an annual subscription basis. These chests remain the property of the RFDS and users are billed once per annum a set fee which includes replenishment of chest contents throughout the year.

The subscription does not provide ownership of the scheduled poisons in the chest, nor an entitlement to dispense or consume them without an RFDS doctor’s authorization. The contents (which include a variety of prescription-only drugs under the Poison’s Act) are covered under the Poison’s Licence held by the RFDS.

Medical chests can also be hired for short-term periods at a monthly rate.

Under either arrangement, all non-subsidized users are obliged to adhere to the conditions of having a medical chest which include regular checking of contents, security of the chest, obtaining an RFDS doctor’s prescription to use scheduled poisons from the chest, and abiding by other relevant aspects of the Poison’s Act of WA and its Regulations.

Information on the annual subscription and hire rates can be obtained by contacting the Medical Chest Officer

What qualifications would I need to manage a medical chest?

Whilst we encourage you to complete a Senior First Aid or Remote First Aid Course, there is no formal qualification to hold a medical chest.  The majority of the chest contents are classified “prescription-only”, therefore their use is subject to direct consultation with an RFDS doctor. It is the doctor's responsibility to correctly diagnose and prescribe. It is, however, your responsibility to follow their instructions.

How often should I check my medical chest?

It is strongly recommended that your chest is checked monthly, or at the very least every 3 months, for expired and used/prescribed items. This will give you peace of mind in the event that someone requires medical help.

What are my responsibilities if drugs are stolen?

In the event of theft, the police must be notified immediately and a report number obtained. The RFDS must then be notified in writing, with the police report number quoted. You will need to include information on what happened and what will be done to prevent such thefts from reoccurring. The RFDS is obliged to report any thefts of drugs to the Health Department of Western Australia. It will be at the RFDS Medical Director’s discretion as to whether the medical chest is to be forfeited or not. We emphasize that extreme care is taken to prevent illicit access to the medical chest.

Are medical chests for fixed land-based locations only?

No. We have a number of chests on board commercial charter vessels which are at sea (WA waters) for extended periods of time. We also permit chests to be hired by groups conducting mobile activities in remote WA (eg, surveying, exploration, outback travel etc).

I have a medical issue and need advice. Which number do I call?

For all medical queries, please telephone 1800 625 800.

I have an administrative issue concerning my medical chest and need advice. Which number do I call?

For all medical chest administrative queries, please telephone 9417 6300.

Is there a brief training package on the medical chest and my responsibilities which I can complete?

Yes, click on this link to complete a brief demonstration online e-Learning package on Medical Chest Management.


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