Featured News Health could hold key to North’s Roadmap to Economic Recovery

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Thu, 10 Dec 2020

Health could hold key to North’s Roadmap to Economic Recovery

close up of stethoscope
Image: Hush Naidoo/Unsplash

A new report has revealed gaps in the organisation and delivery of Northern Australia’s health services, which could be preventing the region from becoming an economic powerhouse.

A team of James Cook University health researchers has released the findings of an eight-month project, which looked into health services and health outcomes for 1.3 million residents across Australia’s north, spanning Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland.

JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine’s Co-Director for the Anton Breinl Research Centre for Health Systems Strengthening, Professor Sarah Larkins, said health systems in the North were struggling to better meet the health needs of residents, with poorly targeted resources and ill-suited funding models.

Professor Larkins said the $250,000 project, with funding from the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), was delivered in response to the Federal Government’s 2015 Northern Australia White Paper, which identified health as a key strategic pillar in developing the North.

“The White Paper defines Northern Australia as including all of the Northern Territory, and the parts of Queensland and Western Australia above the Tropic of Capricorn,” Professor Larkins said.

“We found many organisations providing healthcare and workforce education and training had largely isolated governance and resourcing structures.

“We saw scarce resources in some areas, but there is also waste and duplication that goes on through poor co-ordination of services, and failure to address the social, cultural and environmental determinants of health.

“While we did see a few notable examples of cross-northern governance arrangements focusing on coordination and information-sharing relating to health services and workforce planning and delivery, these were few.”

The report showed all three jurisdictions had workforce shortages, particularly of health generalists and specialists, and in the allied health workforce in rural and remote areas. Turnover of the remote workforce was also a costly problem.

The CRCNA’s CEO Jed Matz said outcomes from the ‘Health Service Delivery and Workforce in Northern Australia’ report would assist in the development of the Roadmap to Economic Recovery for Northern Australia.

“Our recently published Northern Australia Health Service Delivery analysis has shown that across the North, health care and social assistance is the largest employing industry, representing 13% of total employment, and with huge potential for growth,” Mr Matz said.

“Strengthening health services, including the health workforce, in the North is fundamental to both the wellbeing of people living in the region and broader economic productivity and development. “Therefore, the CRCNA continues to invest in research to help resolve some of the issues identified in this paper.”

The CRCNA said improving health outcomes for Northern Australia required political commitment, local leadership and targeted investment to improve health service delivery, workforce stability and evidence-based strengthening of community-led comprehensive primary health care.