BATTLING: John (Ted) Turton is in a red tape battle with the authorities after he found out he had sleep apnoea.
BATTLING: John (Ted) Turton is in a red tape battle with the authorities after he found out he had sleep apnoea. Contributed

Ted battles apnoea red tape issues

WHEN it comes to sleep apnoea, truck drivers are struggling to rise above red tape.

John (Ted) Turton wrote to Big Rigs recently to voice his concerns about the Roads and Maritime Services' handling of his sleep disorder.

"I was well aware for a number of years," he said of his condition.

Ted, 65, has been driving trucks for 40 years and started to feel tired.

"Check ups with the doctor have become a regular thing. I have really been making a big effort to look after my health - after the knock the superannuation has had, who knows how long I will have to keep working?"

He saw his doctor in November 2012 about the possibility of having sleep apnoea and was given a referral to a sleep apnoea clinic.

At the ResSleep centre they discovered Ted had the condition, with initial tests showing he was waking up on average 39 times a night.

"I didn't think it was that bad."

"I tried a few different masks. I was used to it after two weeks."

Before treatment it was found Ted's blood oxygen level was getting down to a low 16% during sleep.

"After three months of treatment with a sleep apnoea machine, I am now waking up on average only 0.4 times a night. I now get a great night's sleep, and do feel good in the morning. All of the sleep pattern data for before and after the treatment was presented in a report from the sleep apnoea clinic."

But what he didn't realise was his doctor was legally required to report to the authorities (Roads and Maritime Services) that he suffered from a sleep disorder.

Back in March, after his treatment had been successful, Ted received a letter from RMS saying he needed to see a sleep specialist and obtain a report about whether or not he was fit to keep his truck licence.

He had six weeks to get the report, though it can take longer to get in to see the specialist.

"I contacted the RMS, gave them all the information about my treatment, and was told that it does not count, and that I need to go back to my doctor again, get another referral to a respiratory physician. After much discussion with them and the realisation that I was not going to get anywhere, I went to my doctor, got the referral and contacted the new specialist, only to be told that there is a 12-week waiting list."

RMS granted Ted an extension, but told him he had one week after the date of his appointment to lodge the report or his licence would be automatically suspended.

"The point I would like to share is that this process is making drivers who suffer with sleep disorders not even go to get treatment, and not show up on the RMS radar as a potential danger on the road. Those drivers that do get treatment and get a successful outcome out of it are punished."

I've already been through all the hoops.

"It's just ridiculous.

"There's 1000 blokes out there that have sleep apnea and are too scared to do anything about it."

He wants the RMS to take away the threat of losing your licence when drivers are prepared to do something about their sleep apnoea.

But a Roads and Maritimes Services spokesperson said RMS had a statutory obligation to ensure all licence holders were medically fit and competent to safely drive a motor vehicle.

"RMS uses the national 'Assessing Fitness to Drive' medical standards, published by Austroads. These medical standards were developed by the National Transport Commission in consultation with numerous medical experts, specialised medical colleges and driver licensing authorities throughout Australia," the spokesperson said.

"In NSW it is a legal requirement for licence holders to report, as soon as practicable, any serious, long term or permanent medical condition or disabilities to RMS. 

"RMS will not prevent a person with a medical condition from driving as long as satisfactory medical evidence is provided confirming they meet the relevant medical criteria, as specified in the 'Assessing Fitness to Drive' medical standards, including they are compliant with treatment and carry out a regular medical review with an appropriate doctor or specialist. 

"RMS has very strict rules when it comes to drivers with specific disorders such as sleep disorders including sleep apnoea and narcolepsy, especially for commercial vehicle drivers. 

"While diagnosis and treatment for certain sleep conditions such as sleep apnoea can be prescribed and monitored by a sleep study technician, such as ResSleep, the technician is not a licensed medical practitioner, and can not be considered as an appropriate specialist for the purpose of assessing fitness to drive.

A 'specialist' is defined as a licensed medical practitioner who specialises and is experienced in the management of the particular condition, such as a sleep disorder specialist or respiratory physician. 

"For the purpose of retaining a commercial driver licence, drivers with a sleep disorder need to consult regularly with a sleep specialist or respiratory physician who can determine if the patient's treatment is effective and whether treatment is being maintained.  Quite often sleep technicians work in conjunction with the sleep specialist and continue to provide assistance to the patient with the prescribed treatment. 

"RMS appreciates in some cases obtaining an appointment with a specialist at short notice can be difficult, especially in remote and regional areas. With this in mind, RMS will, on a case to case basis, consider an extension to the time given to drivers to be reviewed by a specialist. 

"Approval is subject to the driver having an appointment booked to see a relevant specialist at the earliest opportunity and providing RMS with the appointment details, and subject to the driver's general practitioner providing advice the medical condition is not likely to lead to acute incapacity or loss of concentration before the medical assessment occurs."

What is it?

Snore Australia says Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) involves repeated episodes of airway obstruction during sleep, due to relaxation of the tongue and airway-muscles.

Common symptoms are snoring, waking unrefreshed, daytime tiredness, and waking during the night choking or gasping for air.

Patients have about a seven-fold higher risk of death and heart disease.

Research shows that nearly 30% of truck drivers have the condition and it can increase your chances of crashing by up to seven times.

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