Media event date: 
21 November 2019
Date published: 
22 November 2019
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

MARK COULTON:

I’m here with Cath Maloney from SARRAH and Julie Cullenward from Marathon Health in Dubbo. Today I’m announcing a program of $3.2 million that will be spread Australia-wide to fund a generalist pathway for allied health workers.

One of the issues working in regional Australia in the medical profession, even with allied health workers is that you need to have a broader range of skills.

In the city, you can specialise in certain areas if you’re in speech or occupational therapy or physiotherapy. If you’re working in a regional area, you need to have a broader range of skills to be able to deal with the vast complexity of the situations you find yourself in.

So this is a program over two years to fund these junior allied health workers to give them a broader range of skills.

I will let Cath (Maloney, acting CEO SARRAH) explain exactly what it's all about.

CATH MALONEY, ACTING CEO, SERVICES FOR AUSTRALIAN RURAL AND REMOTE ALLIED HEALTH:

Thank you. So thank you, Minister and thank you to Julie and everyone from Marathon Health for this morning's discussion around the importance of the Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway to service delivery in communities. I'm delighted to be here in Dubbo and to be able to represent SARRAH, Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health. We’re a small not for profit organisation representing allied health professionals in rural and remote Australia. Some of you know who we are.

SARRAH exists so that people living in rural and remote Australia can access the allied health services that they need to enjoy the same level of health and wellbeing as our family, friends and colleagues that live in metropolitan areas. It's about a fair go and ensuring decent services for the 30 per cent of Australians who live in rural remote Australia - around seven million. SARRAH represents around 25 professions broadly referred to as allied health. Those professions include physios, psychologists, speech paths, occupational therapists, optometrists, dietitians, podiatrists, audiologists, radiographers, social workers, pharmacists and more. But they are diverse and have specialised skills. But they also have key things in common - they work with doctors, nurses and together as a team to prevent, diagnose, treat and manage illness and injury and to promote and enable rehabilitation, recovery and reablement.

Our members work all over Australia. In hospitals, community health and community controlled primary health centres, in private practice, in disability services. With our older people in the community, in homes, in residential facilities. Almost everywhere. Whether they're working with the elderly in their homes, in emergency departments or while recovering in hospital preventing illness, helping to manage life with chronic disease, coping with trauma and stress or being able to get back to work after an accident. They are a vital part of our health service mix.

Unfortunately, recruiting and keeping allied health professionals in rural and remote Australia is an ongoing challenge. The low numbers of allied health professionals in communities is more severe than for nursing and general practice and often much worse. Allied health professionals working in rural and remote locations often have to deal with a broad range of clients in conditions and cover large geographical areas to deliver their services. They often experience professional isolation and incur higher costs to access supervision and professional development compared to their metropolitan counterparts.

In rural Australia, we need solutions to support allied health professionals who choose to live and work in rural communities. If we consider for example this electorate, the Parkes electorate, Minister Coulton’s electorate, it covers nearly 400,000 square kilometres just under half of New South Wales. It has a population of 110,000 people which is about the same as the population of ten square kilometres in inner city Sydney. As you'd appreciate, it's a different thing providing health services for a population spread out over 400,000 square kilometres. It poses some special challenges. But what's really challenging is that the number of allied health professionals covering that 400,000 square kilometres of Parkes is likely to be about a quarter of the number of allied health professionals that work in the 10, 20 or 30 square kilometres covering the same population in the cities.

These are facts, these are real. Rural communities are generally strong and resilient and know how to work together, be innovative and make things happen. We don't necessarily need or want the same service structures as in metropolitan areas. They aren't always practical and don't seem to fit that well. We need something that's more flexible, developed or adapted to suit. Not a carbon copy of what might work in other situations. So that's what this initiative, the Allied Health Rural Generalist Workforce and Education Scheme, is all about.

It will assist our local professionals to develop the skills needed to help people and communities access services they need in ways that work for them. The Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway was initially developed in the Queensland public health system and has been taken up by some other states and territories. But we want to test, adapt and build the Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway in private and community based health and service settings. And a mix of them, whatever makes sense for communities. It needs to fit with communities and crucially build on and bolster the strengths and opportunities that exist in each community. The Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway supports early career allied health professionals to develop the skills they need to succeed and sustain rural practice. It's designed to help them to work with and extend their reach by using and helping to develop a qualified assistant workforce using Telehealth effectively, bringing in the skills and knowledge to patients and the practitioners locally wherever possible, developing supports that help them provide services across multiple locations and settings, and developing health services around the needs of communities, not retrofitting people into the services that may or may not be available. We know from our members and from other allied health professionals and students that they love and want to work in rural and remote communities, they’d prefer to.

We need systems, structures and practical supports to help them do it, to develop and sustain rural practice, careers and lives in rural Australia. That is what [indistinct] and the support the Minister is announcing today, will help us to do. To build and improve access to allied health services in rural and remote Australia, here in Dubbo and across the country. We thank the support the Government is providing to SARRAH, and to our partners in the community to develop this approach. Workforce support that is tailored to rural practice demands and rural realities.

MARK COULTON:

Thank you. Julie, did you want to make a small comment on Marathon. Julie’s from Marathon who will hopefully be delivering locally.

JULIE CULLENWARD, MARATHON HEALTH, DUBBO:

Okay so Marathon Health is delighted to be part of this project. We’ve got three new graduate therapists who are keen to participate in this program. We see it as very much both a recruitment strategy, but also a retention strategy trying to keep these keen young therapists in our local area and helping us to promote bringing services closer to home, which is what allied health is all about. So we thank the Minister and SARRAH for this opportunity and we are really delighted to be part of it. We’ve also got a student with us at the moment who is from the city and we're hoping by learning about this program, this might entice her over the mountains.

Thank you.

MARK COULTON:

Thanks guys. We do have- and I'm not going to put them in front of the camera, but I'm sure if you wanted to have a chat with these guys about their experiences coming to work here in OT or speech, they'd be very pleased to do that.

Questions?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Mark, do you want to just clarify the funding amount? 3.2?

MARK COULTON:

Yeah. So this is $3.2 million, and the program will go over a two-year period.

QUESTION:

It’s right across Australia?

MARK COULTON:

Yes.

QUESTION:

So how do they access the skills training they need? Say if you’re in Dubbo, how do you access this program?

CATH MALONEY:

So it's a combination. We'll be reaching out to employers of allied health professionals to identify opportunities for trainee positions. So we'll be getting out around the country talking to employers of allied health professionals to find those people who are interested in taking it up.

QUESTION:

So then do they do it externally? Online? Is it face to face?

CATH MALONEY:

There’s a couple of different components to it. So one is structured support and access to training that happens on the job, within the employer. There is coursework that's available through, currently James Cook University. So graduates of this traineeship will come away with a Graduate Diploma in Rural Generalist Practice. And there is a large component of service development that's part of the training as well. So that’s around understanding the community health needs, and how to develop your service around that community's needs.

QUESTION:

What sort of skills will they learn?

CATH MALONEY:

So they'll learn how to use Telehealth effectively. They'll learn how to delegate work safely to an assistant workforce, and how to extend the reach of their practice through the use of the assistant workforce. They’ll learn around partnerships, who the key stakeholders might be within a community to get the service right, and they will learn around skills sharing. So between the different disciplines within the allied health pathway, how to develop the comprehensive service that provides a broad based service.

QUESTION:

So why aren’t they staying now-

MARK COULTON:

[Talks over] And also, cultural awareness, because a lot of this work goes on inside homes, in individual’s homes, and so the opportunity for people who may not be familiar with communities of the West – or regional Australia in general – an understanding of maybe some cultural issues that they might not be familiar with.

QUESTION:

Is there any cost to the participant?

CATH MALONEY:

Not to the participant, no. So, the training- the packages will incorporate the cost of the training coursework, and a grant to the employer that supports the trainee accessing supervision, and for the supervisor to also provide that time.

QUESTION:

So that's that Government funding paying for that? Right. Why aren’t they staying?

CATH MALONEY:

Why aren’t they staying? I think that Allied- that working in rural settings is challenging. We've just heard some stories this morning from our clinicians here about the need to travel long distances; the complexity of delivering services into people's homes, and how that can differ from place to place. The fact that on any given day you might have to deal with young children and babies, right through to the frail aged. So it's a very challenging area to work in. And. Allied health professionals often feel professionally isolated when they’re working rurally. So it is just a very challenging setting to work in.

QUESTION:

Are you confident this will work?

CATH MALONEY:

Yes, it’s been well evaluated in Queensland. And those results indicate that somewhere between- depending on- yeah, that up to- I think it’s 58 per cent of graduates stay regional, rural, and remote up to two years after they’ve finished training. So we're pretty confident that this will improve those retention rates in rural.

QUESTION:

And Mark, you’ve mentioned that the rates of shortage in allied health is even more severe than in GP sand hospitals. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?

MARK COULTON:

Yeah, certainly. And one of the tasks that we as the Government have given Professor Worley, the Rural Health Commissioner, is to do a report into allied health services in regional Australia. That report is due to be delivered to me before Christmas. And one of the programs I'm working at on a more general sense, and there'll be more to come on this later, is a collaborative model where not only GPs, health districts, but also allied health workers as well, can be supported in a more- I guess, a collaborative model, and that's part of this program, is to broaden the skills base so that people actually feel more comfortable working here. But in workforce in general, it's the biggest challenge that we're facing in health at the moment. Minister Hunt and myself have identified the fact that workforce in rural Australia is probably the number one health priority for the Government at the moment, and we're putting in a lot of effort. This is merely but one of the ways we’re looking at overtaking that. Yeah.

QUESTION:

Mark, can I ask you a question? You mentioned about the cultural sensitives? Given New South Wales has one of the largest populations of Aboriginal people, will their culture- is that incorporated in the program [indistinct]-

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

[Interrupts] Sorry, just before you use that, could you please move [inaudible]…

MARK COULTON:

Sorry. Yeah, look, Yvette, that’s probably- that's what I was referring to, yeah. So a lot of the work that goes on in the western towns is within Aboriginal households, and so there are issues there with multigenerational, several generations living in one family- in one home, and it's just important that there's an awareness for people that may be not familiar working in that space, that they have that have that awareness. And you know, the work that these guys are doing in places like Walgett, Nyngan, at the moment, is greatly appreciated by those communities. And so it’s important that they feel comfortable going there in the first place.

QUESTION:

And is it likely in the communities that there will be Indigenous trainees entering this program?

CATH MALONEY:

SARRAH is working with Indigenous Allied Health Australia to ensure that the rural generalist pathway is appropriate for implementing in Aboriginal settings. So there’ll be a body of work that we’ll be doing alongside my half, to ensure that that occurs.

MARK COULTON:

But in general terms, the Government obviously would like to see more Aboriginal people working in the health space, whether that's in an allied health area or in general practice. And I know recently one of my young friends from [indistinct] graduated as a doctor from Newcastle University, and that's happening across the region. And so those young people that are stepping up from the regions and taking up leading roles in health professions will be wonderful role models for the rest of the community. But also provide valuable service back into those communities that have furthered them.

Thank you.