The Murrumbidgee's first paediatric rheumatology clinic will open this Friday in a "milestone" for chronically ill children and their families.
Paediatric rheumatology is a specialised field of medicine that cares for children with inflammatory conditions and diseases of the musculoskeletal system, including juvenile Lupus or arthritis.
Rheumatic diseases affect more than 6,000 children and young people in NSW, but Riverina residents have had to travel to Sydney or to an outreach clinics outside of the region for treatment.
Fourteen-year-old cancer survivor Beni Ali and her family are among a group of dedicated people who have worked hard to bring the outreach service to the region.
Miss Ali was diagnosed with Lupus four years ago, not long after she went into remission for leukaemia.
The Year 8 Wagga High School student and her parents have since had to visit Sydney multiple times a year for treatment by paediatric rheumatologist Davinder Singh-Grewal.
The family has been advocating for funding for Clinical Professor Singh-Grewal to set up an outreach clinic in Wagga, with Miss Ali booked in for the very first appointment on Friday morning.
"He's helped me a lot. He's the best," Miss Ali said.
"It feels good because usually when we go up to Sydney I have to miss two days of school. So at least now that it's here I don't have to miss out a lot."
The NSW Rural Doctors Network will support the local service with enough funding for three face-to-face visits and three telehealth visits per year, with additional support from the Murrumbidgee Local Health District and its paediatricians.
Professor Singh-Grewal, who also runs a successful outreach clinic in Orange, thanked Riverina families for their advocacy while they suffered from the "tyranny of distance".
"I feel very strongly that, you know, we need to bring care closer to home for patients," he said.
Murrumbidgee Local Health District clinical director of paediatrics John Preddy said it was exciting to see the outreach clinic set up for local families.
"I think the need has always been there. But I think we now have the infrastructure and the people. We've got a beautiful hospital and a beautiful new outpatient area and we now have a core group of paediatricians," he said.
"What you work out quite quickly is that you save a lot of money because kids don't have travel. It saves money, even though someone has to invest."
He said the MLHD secured additional funding for the clinic of about $13,000 per year from the NSW Rural Doctors Network.
Member for Wagga Joe McGirr said he had been working with the MLHD and the clinicians involved to have the clinic established in Wagga.
"The need to travel long distances to visit city-based medical specialists with a sick child adds further to the burden already facing regional and rural families. It's great to see steps taken to reduce this burden," he said.