The Alliance was represented at the recent Are you remotely interested? conference by its newest staff member, Alice Sisley. Organised by the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health of James Cook University, this was the 7th in this series of biennial events.
The conference was an opportunity for people to ask whether current approaches to health workforce programs are 'fit for purpose' for remote and rural Australia.
The event attracted participants from across the nation, especially from Queensland and the Northern Territory. Key issues raised included the need for greater investment in building and supporting the skills health workers need for safe and effective work in more remote areas.
To help attract health workers from metropolitan areas, the deficit models of rural and remote communities need to be challenged more frequently and more successfully.
It still remains the case that one of the keys to improving health service delivery in Aboriginal communities is to build a stronger Aboriginal Health Workforce.
Creating strong community partnerships was a central theme of the conference, particularly among those focusing on Aboriginal health care provision. A number of community health service models were presented that focused on empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Often the programs were locally funded through Councils, with local leadership from health workers and other community members. Health workers everywhere can develop strong partnerships through long-term advocacy and commitment to the communities with which they work.
While highlighting a number of successful health workforce and service delivery models in remote communities, the conference also showcased a number of challenges yet to be overcome. One of the main causes of concern is the high rate of turnover of health workers in remote communities. Distance, lack of adequate support pathways and incentives and insufficient local engagement and leadership were all identified as contributing to this. Building a local workforce who live and work within the community was seen as one of the top priorities in establishing a health care service to meet community needs over the long term.
The lack of consistency in patient care plans due to the high rates of turnover in remote healthcare workers, poor access to specialised services and the lack of relationship building between communities and healthcare staff are all examples of the disadvantage faced by remote communities because of the poor retention and distribution of health care workers.
Health workers can be effective leaders in their communities through establishing trust and strong partnerships with patients, and engaging the community through public outreach and education to empower communities to make healthy choices for themselves and their families.