Outreach: Health care where it’s needed most

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Health care in rural and remote communities in Queensland, and particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, is now more accessible than ever before thanks to a large increase in the number of Outreach health services delivered over the past year. The Outreach programs are funded through the Commonwealth Department of Health and aim to deliver vital health services to people living in rural and remote areas of Australia, who normally don’t have access to certain health services, such as allied health, medical specialist and GP services.

In Queensland, the Outreach program is coordinated by CheckUP, in partnership with the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, and both organisations are working hard to ensure that health services are being delivered in those areas of the state that need them most. A health needs assessment survey is conducted annually and regional planning and coordination committees, which are comprised of local health providers, meet quarterly in each of the six Queensland regions to discuss and plan for the delivery of Outreach services in their local area.

In the last twelve months, there were almost 13,000 visits by Outreach health providers to towns and communities throughout Queensland and a total of 123,000 consultations were undertaken. Almost 70% of these consultations (85,000) were delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a concerted effort to help address the vast health and lifeexpectancy inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

One good example of how Outreach health services are making a difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is the service provided by Gidgee Healing, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service based in Mount Isa. Each month a team from Gidgee Healing travel 500km north to Normanton, a small cattle town of 1,100 people in the Gulf Country region of north-west Queensland.

The Gidgee team includes a General Practitioner, nurse and Aboriginal Health Worker who stay in Normanton for the week to deliver primary health care services from the Gidgee Healing Bus, a mobile health van which is parked and delivers services from the Normanton Recovery and Community Wellbeing Service.

On each visit the health providers see approximately 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and have reported a very low non-attendance rate. This service has been operating for 12 months and is highly valued by the local people and the local health providers.

“Many community members have expressed to me that they are extremely happy that the service is provided by Gidgee, and have indicated that they will keep visiting the health van in the future,” said Registered Aboriginal Health Practitioner Dean Turner.

The Gidgee Outreach service is operating so effectively and having such a positive impact due to the Gidgee team adopting a partnership approach to providing healthcare; working closely with the Normanton Recovery Service, the community, and other local and visiting health providers to support an integrated and collaborative approach to improving health outcomes for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents of Normanton.

The Gidgee service is just one of many health services funded through the Outreach programs that are delivering much needed health care in 156 towns throughout Queensland.

“CheckUP is committed to working closely with our key partners and stakeholders to ensure that people in the most remote locations in Queensland, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, have access to high quality healthcare,” said CheckUP CEO Ann Maree Liddy.

“We know that our Outreach programs are making a positive impact and are helping to close the gap in health inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians."

This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of The Health Advocate. To access current and past issues, click here.