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Workforce challenges that impact the continuity of healthcare in NT communities

Photo: Workforce challenges that impact the continuity of healthcare in NT communities
East Arnhem South is a region that covers several communities including Alyangula, Umbakumba and Angurugu (Groote Eylandt), Milyakburra (Bickerton Island) and Numbulwar (Mainland community).

There is a Primary Healthcare (PHC) centre within each community that provides a full range of PHC services to First Nations People under Close-the-Gap or Section 100 arrangements.

Jeff Gaden is the District Manager for South East Arnhem and his role focusses on workforce and finance strategy that supports regional clinical managers in providing PHC to communities within the region.

Mr Gaden identified several workforce challenges that impact the continuity of healthcare to communities within the region, including access, timing and costs associated with back-filling permanent Healthcare Professionals (HPs) that go on leave.
Permanent HPs in the South East Arnhem region have leave entitlements that equate to approximately nine weeks per year, in addition to any training requirements, so the need for remote-ready personnel is constant and costly.

Airfares alone cost, on average and subject to availability, between $1,000 and $2,000 return to transport a HP from their hometown into an NT community. This estimate excludes the cost of accommodation for the back-fill period which can be up to 28 days per placement.

The ideal scenario for remote health centres is to have a quality casual pool of employees to back-fill permanent HPs that go on leave, but the reality is that there is a severe shortage and managers must look outside the NT for qualified remote-ready personnel.

John Langrell, Primary Healthcare Manager at Alyangula Health Centre, said that it is difficult “finding health professionals who are available to cover when permanent staff are taking recreation leave and attending professional development - particularly finding health professionals who have the required qualifications to perform remote area nurse roles”.

Alyangula is a mining community on Groote Eylandt, approximately 650km east of Darwin and 50km off the Arnhem Land coast in Australia's Gulf of Carpentaria.

The health centre provides PHC services to a community of 700 residents and approximately 400-500 FIFO workers. It is important that the service maintains functionality to provide the community with ongoing and exceptional standards of healthcare.

In 2011, the Australian Government Department of Health established a Government-funded locum program to support rural and remote health services across Australia.

Administered by Aspen Medical, the Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP) has assisted regions like South East Arnhem to maintain high-quality continuity of healthcare service to their communities.

“Rural LAP provides my region with a cost-effective solution to ensuring ongoing clinical service delivery while facilitating access to essential continuous professional development opportunities and recreational/social leave”, Mr Gaden said.

Since inception Rural LAP has completed nearly 2,000 placements in the NT and over 7,000 placements across rural and remote Australia.

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