Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health – press conference in Alice Springs – 10 April 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McCarthy's media conference in Alice Springs about the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Allied Health Mobile Clinic, diabetes and Indigenous health

Senator the Hon Malarndirri McCarthy
Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health

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ANDREW JOLLY, CONGRESS ALLIED HEALTH MANAGER: Good morning. My name is Andrew Jolly. I'm the manager of the Allied Health team at Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. It's a real pleasure to be here this morning to talk about a fantastic resource that’s been funded by the Australian Government. It's an Allied Health Mobile Clinic. It's a resource that gets our service providers out to communities. As many people know, in Central Australia, there's many remote communities and people living a very long way from Alice Springs where a lot of the services are based. So a vehicle like this enables our allied health professionals from Congress, to travel to and from these remote communities and provide really important specialised support and services. The reason why we need to send allied health professionals to remote communities the prevalence of diabetes and type two diabetes is high and increasing in Central Australia. And we know that Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected. So this resource helps podiatrists and diabetes educators to travel to remote communities, provide preventative care, we know that those services help to prevent mitigate the impacts of diabetes. So it's a real pleasure to announce the arrival of this vehicle, you'll see the paint job behind me, a really great resource to help get our allied health service providers to the people that need it in Central Australia. I just wanted to introduce the Assistant Minister McCarthy, just to talk a little bit more about this fantastic resource.

ASSISTANT MINISTER MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY: Thanks, AJ. And I think it's really significant this morning to be here on Arrernte country and being able to have a look at the foot truck. This is quite an extraordinary vehicle and a very important one, and I do thank Congress for the work they're doing with their colleagues across Central Australia. There are a number of communities involved in this and as you all know, there are 8 communities that will be visited with this truck. One of the things that really shocked and alarmed me was the high rates of amputations in Central Australia. Central Australia has the highest rate of amputations across the country. Why? Because of diabetes, because of poor health, because of the impacts of kidney disease, renal disease on Aboriginal Territorians. The fact that we need to ensure that early prevention through having this truck to go out to communities, to be able to monitor the health and wellbeing of First Nations people shows that it is being taken seriously not just by Congress, but also by the Commonwealth Government. One of the things we want to do with the Albanese Labor government is to close the gap in health in particular, and I have responsibility in that area. And this is critical to me, it's also exciting to see that we have some passionate people like Hannah, who will tell her stories in a moment about the need for constant check-ups, with health overall for ourselves, but the fact that we have high rates of diabetes, the fact that we have high rates of amputations here in Alice Springs, is a real concern. I was just visiting the Alice Springs hospital yesterday to go and actually have a look at the prosthetics. And the work that is done behind the scenes to assist both in the post treatment, to people who've had their limbs amputated, and what kind of support they get, and how do they keep receiving that support as they go on to country or back home in Alice Springs, but also talk to them about the preventative side of things. And we know there is a real need here in Central Australia. So I commend Congress and the Allied Health team for the work they're doing. 

HANNAH MURDOCH, CONGRESS PODIATRIST: So yeah, I'm Hannah, I’m a podiatrist at Congress and have been putting the truck to use. So yeah, as mentioned, there's such a high rate of diabetes within Central Australia, which really has an impact on people living with diabetes. So can impact lower limbs, kidneys, eyes and yeah, vast majority of other things. So being able to travel remotely, and follow up with people that have these complications, and also the early intervention of health promotion. And when we go to community, it's often a podiatrist and diabetes educator who work quite closely together, along with other allied health professionals, so it’s really good to have that multidisciplinary approach. And, you know, sort of get people into the chair. Often just driving to clinic into the community, people are curious as to what this truck is. So you'll often get even like kids or people of all ages just popping their head in the door. And it's like, that's just that curiosity and gets people engaged in health care so much earlier. And then you can often provide lots of education, help people, you know, get their feet checked, people love getting their feet checks, as we know. And yeah, it's just been a really good resource as well, it takes a lot of pressure off the clinics, obviously, there's lots of visiting services all the time, going remotely. So us being able to take a truck and have two clinic spaces that are readily available just often makes it so much easier to approach these clinics and go out to community, as well as some communities that are quite spread out, so we can be mobile and, you know, move around to different homelands or go to people, so people don't always have to come in. You know, it just takes that effort off all the time. 

ANDREW JOLLY: As well as being the Allied Health Manager I’m also a truck driver. We’re slowly qualifying all of our Allied Health staff to be able to drive the vehicle, which is really important. And I was lucky enough to take the vehicle out to Urapuntja homelands. That's not a Congress community. It's an independent Aboriginal community controlled health service. But we do know in Urapuntja, there's a number of people living in outstations, they may live 120 or so kilometres away from the clinic. So a vehicle like this means that we can see people in those outstations. So as a truck driver, I accompany the podiatrist and diabetes educator, and made an effort to really ask people what they thought about the truck, whether it was acceptable. At that point in time, it didn't have the beautiful paint job that it has today. It was very white. And that was the number one piece of feedback was to give it some colour. So I'm really thankful we've been able to deliver that today. But the other thing that we heard from community members is that services are really needed. They're really happy to have services where they live. And services like podiatry and diabetes education can go a long way to, to yes, preventing avoidable trips to town affordable trips to hospital. And as Assistant Minister McCarthy mentioned, avoidable amputations to in the case of Hannah's services, as a podiatrist. So there's seven other communities that we visit with this vehicle. We're really looking forward to getting some more miles under the bonnet and really putting it to use. So yeah, thanks again.

JOURNALIST: And just for people within outstations, communities as well, how could they potentially get access to this service as well? 

ANDREW JOLLY: It's a really good question. Congress is always open to phone calls from community members wanting to access services. And if you're an individual living in a community where there's a Congress clinic, we can typically link you in with the schedule for the next visit by a podiatrist or diabetes educator. Unfortunately, we're not visiting all communities in the region, we know that there’s a lot of people living across Central Australia in other communities. But where Congress is operating, people can contact our services by just checking in on the website, finding what the contact details are and giving us a buzz. We do partner with three other Aboriginal community controlled health organisations for the podiatry and diabetes education service at the minute, including in Ampilatwatja, Urapuntja and Pintupi Homelands Health Service. So there's quite a wide reach of the services we have available. For people that might be living in in clinics where there isn't a Congress service. We also have a telehealth service available for diabetes education and podiatry too, again, information can be found on the website.

JOURNALIST: So it was just the one truck at the moment?

ANDREW JOLLY: This truck replaces an older vehicle, which had just the single clinic room that had a lot of kilometres under the bonnet. And it certainly retired. The beauty of this vehicle is it has two clinic rooms. And it means that we can work in a multidisciplinary way. We can have two clinicians operating out of the same resource. It means for community members, it's a bit of a one stop shop, I can see both the podiatrist and the diabetes educator in one hit. It also is pretty versatile. So if we choose to, if we hear from community that they'd really love to have a dietician or another health professional out there, we've got that capability. We've even got a slide out tray for a barbecue and a cook up if that happens to help our engagement when we’re out bush.

JOURNALIST: So you really like do a couple of different things? 

ANDREW JOLLY: Yeah, we tried to plan for this resource knowing that there's a big investment into it to be as versatile and usable as possible. We know the greatest need from a population perspective is around managing diabetes and the foot complications associated with that. So that's our core service. But Congress is constantly growing its allied health services as part of its comprehensive primary health care. So there are a range of services available. 

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