Presentation to the parliamentary inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote NSW
Image: Jess Brown (General Manager – Strategy and Growth) and Julie Cullenward (Practice Lead – Allied Health) at Parliamentary Inquiry
Jessica Brown's opening statement on behalf of Marathon Health, to the parliamentary inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote NSW:
Thank you for inviting us to expand on our submission to your inquiry. Marathon Health is a regionally based not-for-profit organisation working in western NSW, the Murrumbidgee and the south east. We are passionate advocates for equal access to quality health services for people, wherever they choose to live.
We responded to this inquiry to draw attention to the ‘missing middle’ in healthcare in our communities, that has been created by the lack of allied health services.
We also wanted to highlight some of the things we’re doing to try and fill this gap so that people living out here can access the services that keep them out of hospital and continuing to live independently.
The critical shortage of community-based allied health professionals is well documented, with demand only increasing due to the NDIS and aged care reforms. They play that vital role in identifying issues early and linking people with other aspects of the health system.
Without this link, we are seeing some worrying case studies emerge. Two in the last week from our staff are:
- 40 pre-school aged children in one rural community who have been identified with speech issues but have no access to services so their family, carers, teachers and communities have just accepted that they won’t ever speak properly.
- The residents in an aged care facility in a remote town who are at serious risk of choking that our speechies only noticed because they were there for something else
These gaps exist across all sectors; public, not-for-profit and private. Bulk-billed allied health services were once an option for all, especially lower income people, but have now all but disappeared from rural towns due to the demand for higher value work.
On a positive note, we know that when we have a skilled and experienced allied health workforce regularly visiting regional communities and linked in with other parts of the health system, we can create health outcomes.
The Chronic Disease Management and Prevention Program provides monthly access to dieticians and diabetes educators out of medical practices across western NSW. People needing the service wait less than a month, plans are developed for people that link in with their GP and they are much less likely to be hospitalised.
So, to fill the gaps, we have invested in growing our own workforce.
Over the past three years we have supported 48 speech, OT and social work students to complete clinical placements with us.
This was an enormous effort from our staff but it has resulted in 21 students choosing to work in regional NSW and 12 of those students gaining employment with Marathon Health.
We don’t just do this for our own benefit – we are committed to growing a regional allied health workforce to improve the health outcomes of people who live outside our cities.
We know what works.
Building relationships with universities, hosting students on clinical placements, demonstrating the benefits of working regionally and maintaining the connection with students through their studies results in them working and living out here. But it does come at a cost to our business.
Our strategies in selling life as an allied health clinician in regional, rural and remote NSW is a genuine success story. But it’s not something we can sustain by ourselves.
With the right investment and carefully thought out public-private partnerships, we can work together to grow an allied health workforce that adequately supports “the missing middle”, provides integrated care, supports the work of our GPs, creates better health outcomes and reduces the strain on hospitals.