RFDS Physiotherapist

Graphic: RFDS Physiotherapist

A dry needle in the haystack: Meet our first Flying Physio

Date published

21 Feb 2024

Armed with a portable treatment table and a backpack containing everything you’d find in a city clinic, the RFDS’s newest health professional is making tracks in the bush.

Physiotherapy is the latest service to be added to the RFDS Community Health team, which already offers specialist nursing, oral health, mental health, midwifery, occupational therapy and dietetic services to patients across outback South Australia.

As the RFDS’s first ever ‘Flying Physio’, Aled Francis has helped build the service from the ground up.

"We’re introducing physiotherapy to people who have never had access before, so the expectations are huge,” he said.

“Here in the outback, a lot of people are experiencing chronic or complex health issues and that’s the biggest challenge. They want to get better straight away and we try to match these expectations as much as we can.”

Over the last 12 months, the RFDS has developed a regular fly-in-fly-out physiotherapy service visiting 11 locations and providing care to more than 580 patients. Aled packs his own massage table, dry needles and remedial equipment for each visit.

In the remote opal mining town of Andamooka in Far North South Australia, the service started with two patients. Today, the RFDS books out three consecutive days of physiotherapy appointments every month.

“It’s shown the massive unmet demand for physiotherapy in the bush – I’m proud to say we’re making changes in people’s lives."

RFDS Physiotherapist Aled Francis
Photo: RFDS Physiotherapist Aled Francis performs dry needling.

Coorabie in Far West South Australia is one of the many communities benefitting from the new fly-in physiotherapy service.

With the closest health clinic two hours’ drive to Ceduna (or a six-hour drive to Port Lincoln for more serious help), the 100-strong farming community relies on regular fly-in visits from the RFDS Community Health teams.

Fourth-generation Coorabie farmer Deb Kloock said she was thrilled to learn the RFDS was delivering another specialist service to the outback.

For years, she’s struggled with an injured ankle, which is full of scar tissue following surgical procedures and many years of working on the land.

“I had an ankle operation four or five years ago and it still didn’t feel stable enough,” she said.

“I’ve been seeing Aled and he’s really helped. He does dry needling where my muscle is tense right up my leg and that releases it, and he gives me exercises to stretch it because there’s a lot of lingering scar tissue.

“The RFDS team are like family – they’re just so friendly and make you feel at ease.”

Deb Kloock
Photo: Coorabie Farm owner Deb Kloock.

Young mum Mel Haines, another grain and sheep farmer from Coorabie, has also suffered from a chronic neck issue that flares up particularly during harvest season.

“I’ve had my shoulder and neck issues for six years and I’ve been to so many services where nobody could find anything,” she said.

“Then I met Aled and in the first five minutes, he found the problem, put his thumbs in it and I felt a million bucks better.

“I now don’t have to drive hours and hours to see a service in Port Lincoln. If that was the case, I would never be able to go fortnightly or monthly.”

Aled said it’s regular access to health services like physiotherapy that keep remote communities healthy and happy.

“Chronic physical conditions really affect farming communities because it stops them working, it stops them living, it stops them functionally doing what they want and their quality of life can spiral down with it,” Aled said.

“People like Deb and Mel can do a whole harvest now without being in pain.”

RFDS Physiotherapist Aled Francis
Photo: RFDS Physiotherapist Aled Francis unloading his equipment for a day of appointments.

The RFDS provides fly-in-fly-out healthcare services to more than 56,000 patients across rural and remote South Australia and the Northern Territory.

“We have sheep and grain that we produce on our farms, so the country’s got to have that,” Deb said.

“To me, the RFDS is one of the important organisations around Australia and we need them to keep flying.”

RFDS Physiotherapist Aled Francis, Pilot Montie Lester and Eva, Rachael and Fiona of the Allied Health team.
Photo: RFDS Physiotherapist Aled Francis, Pilot Montie Lester and Eva, Rachael and Fiona of the Allied Health team.
Country SA PHN

The RFDS Physiotherapy Service is part of the RFDS Integrated Primary Care Program, which is funded by Country SA Primary Health Network.

Learn more about our Outback Community Health Services.