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Interview with Katie Woolf, of Mix 104.9FM, Darwin, on placement and training at Katherine Health Clinic

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie's interview with Katie Woolf, of Mix 104.9FM, Darwin, on placement and training at Katherine Health Clinic.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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KATIE WOOLF: 

 Joining me on the line this morning- we know that more than 35 allied health students each year are going to now undertake placements and receive important hands-on training in Katherine health clinics through this $1.9 million Federal Government grant. Now joining me on the line is Dr David Gillespie, the Federal Minister for Regional Health. Good morning to you, Dr Gillespie.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

Yeah, good morning, Katie. Great to be with you.

KATIE WOOLF:

Yeah, wonderful to have you on the show. Now, $1.9 million for health students to undertake placements in Katherine. What's the aim of this program?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

It's to get local and Northern Territory allied health students in occupational therapy and speech therapy and other allied health disciplines practical training on the ground in a regional centre. And Katherine's been chosen because there's networks here with the Indigenous Allied Health Australia and Wurli-Wurlinjang and Katherine West Health Board, they have clinics here and Flinders University has got supervisors.

The whole mix will mean that local Territorian students get experience, as well as some from out of the area get experience in rural and remote Australia. As you know …

KATIE WOOLF:

Yeah.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

Everyone knows there's nurses and doctors in hospitals and medical centres, but there's also allied health. That's people like these OTs and speech therapists and physios, pharmacists. It takes a whole suite of professionals to get a good health service. So we're doing this around Australia, but it's here in the Territory being expanded in Katherine.

KATIE WOOLF: 

 Well, and I know that it's something we certainly need to have happen in the Northern Territory. Right around the Territory, we have had a shortage, it seems, over recent weeks and months, when it comes to some of those various health professions.
Dr Gillespie, how quickly is this going to get underway?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

Well, I'm meeting with all these partners in this project this morning here in Katherine. They want to get going as soon as they get the money, which has been happening behind the scenes. But we're announcing it today, and I'm getting a full debrief today on when the first students are starting. As you know, they come for rotations, and they're supervised by three allied health clinicians and one Aboriginal allied health assistant.

It's great for the local workforce to be involved in teaching students. It adds a career fill-up to people who are involved in it. So, it's good for the local health workforce too, because these students actually will be treating people under supervision as well.

KATIE WOOLF:  

Is it going to be enough, though, to, you know, like, it's obviously great to get them there for these placements, but is it going to be enough to get people to actually move to some of our wonderful regional town centres like Katherine and, you know, get them to stay and to work there longer term?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

Look, you’ve nailed it there, Katie. There is an issue around the country; there's way too many health professionals in the big, bright lights of cities, and we have got so many programs – some are short, immediate terms, like financial incentives baked-in to give doctors and nurse practitioners extra help financially.

And also, we’ve announced in the last six weeks of the initiative of relieving HELP or HECS debt for doctors who go into rural and remote Australia. They've got to stay - you can’t just do like a three-month term there - but if they stay, they get released from their HELP debt and same for nurse practitioners, and that started 1 January.

So all the time they spend here accumulates. They still got to pay their HECS debt, but if they stayed longer term, for up to half the length of their medical degree or their nurse practitioner degree, all of a sudden they get a refund of up to half. And if they stay the whole time, they get a full refund. So that's a big financial incentive. And that's on top of some existing ones that are part of the Medicare system, that if you are in these more remote areas, bulk billing incentive is greater, you get workforce incentive payments for you yourself, as well as for the practice to employ allied health like nurse practitioners and psychologists and OTs and physios. And yeah, we've also got support for the Flying Doctor, which has massive presence in the NT. And we also have increased since 2013, heaps of money to the NT Health.

I was with Jacinta Price and Damien Ryan last night in Katherine. They are right on top of these issues. Damien has lived and worked in the southern part of the Territory but he is getting around everywhere, and he's hearing this loud and clear. They’re not just looking after small business, which is in our DNA, but they're looking after the health system and so-

KATIE WOOLF: 

 [Talks over] Well, and I think- and it needs to happen. You know, I guess we're in a situation where there are some parts of the Northern Territory where it is difficult to be able to get those healthcare professionals there.

I know last time we had you on the show when you were talking to us about that initiative to get some of those new graduates out to the more remote areas, somebody in the healthcare system had been in contact and said: look, Katie, it seems like a great idea, but the only concern is, are we sending some of these brand new graduates out to locations where the sickest of Territorians are living, in some cases, with very minimal experience?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

Well, that's not quite correct.

The training spots when you're a GP registrar, you have to have a supervisor. But they qualify for this even if they're working in, say, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, of which there's a huge suite of them in the Territory.

Whether you're in a private general practice being supervised as a registrar, or in a local hospital, there is the requirement though. It doesn’t- that benefit doesn’t kick in up front; it kicks in if you stay for a significant period of time. We have put so much money into the Flying Doctor, into the Indigenous side of things, the Aboriginal medical services, and the hospitals, and the primary health networks, the PHNs, we've got a suite of support. But we can't conscript people. They’ve got to want to come.

KATIE WOOLF: 

 Absolutely.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

And the best thing is for them to have a great experience and earn a proper return for the effort and the reward and the extra responsibility they take. Because yeah, people are sicker in country-

KATIE WOOLF:

Well, they won't want to stay.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

People do get sicker in country areas. That's why we've got this absolute focus on getting the workforce crisis improved in country Australia.

KATIE WOOLF:

 Minister, we are going to have to leave it there. I really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks very much for having a chat with us about this funding boost.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:

My pleasure. Thanks, Katie.

KATIE WOOLF: 

Thank you. That is the Minister for Regional Health, Minister David Gillespie there, and that $2 million funding boost for Allied student training in Katherine. So basically, more than 35 of those Allied Health students, each year, are going to undertake placements and receive important hands-on training in Katherine health clinics. It is through this $1.9 million Federal Government grant. It seems like a really good initiative. And I think the more that we can get, you know, the more that we can get people out into regional parts of the Northern Territory, the better. But like I said there, it is about trying to keep them there as well. I know I was listening to some interviews out of New South Wales, out of Sydney yesterday, where they were talking about, you know, the lack of infrastructure in different areas around Sydney and how they don't want their population to grow, whereas we here in the Northern Territory have got quite the opposite problem, I should say, in the sense that we want our population to grow, and there are certainly jobs which need to be filled, particularly when you look at some of those healthcare professions.

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