The scarcity of access to health services in regional and remote areas of the country is an ongoing dilemma forcing many communities to go to great lengths to attract health professionals.
The Mayor said the ongoing shortage of doctors at Wellington Hospital, and limited access to medical specialists, made the town a logical and central location for a public hearing.
“I really feel the best way for the committee to get a sense of what smaller regional towns are enduring is by scheduling a hearing in Wellington. All regional cities and towns have some issues with accessing health services but for a town with more than 5000 people to run out of doctors, that is serious.”
However, the problem is widespread.
Scholarships and traineeships
In South Australia, City of Mount Gambier and District Council of Grant, have joined forces together with Flinders Rural Health SA, local philanthropists, business and community groups, to support up to 12 financial grants to local students who are required to leave the region to undertake university studies in health skills shortage areas within the community.
Mount Gambier and District Tertiary Health Education Grants Program Chairman, Rodney Summers, said, “We provide these grants to students to encourage them to return to our region once they are qualified, if they are able to.”
The grants are available to students commencing or continuing university studies in identified skills shortage areas such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, allied health, midwifery, psychology, paramedicine and mental health nursing.
Yass Valley Council contributes to a scholarship, aiming to encourage the next generation of health and medical practitioners to work in country New South Wales, and hosts the placement of students each summer.
University of Newcastle nursing student, Peter Matthews will gain a taste of bush nursing with a two-week placement in Yass this summer after he was awarded a New South Wales Rural Doctors Network Bush Bursary scholarship.
The problem is repeated in small and large centres across the country and degree of remoteness is not a reliable indicator
of the scale of the problem.
Just two hours north of Melbourne, Shepparton, population 50,000 plus, has formed the Great Careers + Lifestyle Working Group to create a regional workforce development plan to support local businesses to attract and retain workers, particularly for difficult to fill positions.
Greater Shepparton City Council’s Manager Communications and Engagement and Working Group Chair, Fiona Le Gassick, said, “The group has focussed on strategies that encourage people to move to our region to work and live and assist in addressing skill shortages, attract specialists and assist with hard to fill roles.
“With Goulburn Valley (GV) Health needing to fill up to 450 health and support jobs in the coming years, there is a need to look outside of our region to fill such a high volume and variety of roles.”
A recruitment video/TV commercial will air in Victoria and NSW, highlighting positions available that employers are struggling to fill in such industries as agriculture and horticulture, building surveying, engineering, teaching and health.
New role supports newcomers
Research from the University of Melbourne focusing on the attraction and retention of health workers to regional and rural areas, indicates that if a new employee to a region fails to feel connected to their new community within the first 12 – 18 months of relocating, by year two they resign from their position and leave the area.
In response, a new position has been created in Shepparton, to assist new employees to the area to feel welcome and assist with connecting and integrating them with their new community.
The Community Connector Co-ordinator has been funded as a pilot for six months via the state government’s Working for Victoria program.
The position will provide a service to support employees contemplating applying or accepting a position with a Greater Shepparton business or organisation or those who have already accepted a job and are planning to move to the region to undertake a role.
The position is designed to facilitate the employees’ and their family’s assimilation into the community and to create meaningful opportunities to connect with others in the region so they not only feel welcome but will eventually call Greater Shepparton home.
GV Health Chief Executive Officer, Matt Sharp, said, “This role will be a real asset to GV Health as it will assist with the attraction and retention of staff at GV Health by providing valuable support in integrating staff into the local community, create lasting connections and developing a lifestyle foundation that will encourage them to stay in the area long-term.
“We are dedicated to recruiting highly skilled and qualified staff that support the health and wellbeing needs of our community.
“By collaborating with the Community Connect Co-Ordinator, GV Health will be able to enhance our attraction and retention support for potential candidates and staff who join our team.
“Expansion of services and facilities due to our major capital redevelopment project, COVID-19 response, Local Public Health Unit and mental health services, we will have a number of clinical and non-clinical roles that need to be filled over the next few years.
“The Community Connect Co-ordinator will be pivotal in supporting the transition into a regional lifestyle and help newcomers embrace all that our wonderful community has to offer.”
Telehealth fills the gap
Western Australia deals with the tyranny of distance on a scale not seen elsewhere in the country.
In a bid to spread quality health services across the state’s 2.6 million square km, a virtual clinical hub utilises telehealth to provide basic and specialist health services.
One year on from the launch of the Western Australian Country Health Service (WACHS) Command Centre, specialist level care has been delivered on country for more than 21,000 people in regional areas.
The 24/7 virtual clinical hub is staffed by more than 140 doctors and nurses who utilise state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology to support country clinicians in the care of their patients across emergency, inpatient and mental health care.
Now operational at more than 85 hospitals and nursing posts, with five more sites to be enabled early in 2021, the innovative hub has enabled 70 percent of patients to avoid medical transfer and continue receiving care on country and close to home.
In response to COVID-19, critical care doctors were added to the list of available specialists.
Work is underway to add other speciality fields such as palliative care, obstetrics and paediatrics as well as a one-stop shop for the co-ordination of patient transfers.