Like many service providers based in the Pilbara, WACRH’s capacity to respond to the significant health and health workforce needs is curtailed by high costs of accommodation, limited infrastructure and the struggle to maintain a critical mass of staff. Despite this, WACRH has delivered a broad range of projects through partnerships with many Pilbara Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations.
In addressing the critical rural health workforce shortages of the area, WACRH has partnered with Pilbara Health Network within the Karratha GP Superclinic to:
Add significant value to existing health and related projects in Karratha; and,
Build on partnerships with a range of service providers to expand the health workforce and develop capacity in community services in the Pilbara region.
Evidence of need
The Pilbara population profile
Over the past decade, the Pilbara region has experienced significant economic growth and rapid and changing demographics. In 2010, the estimated resident population of the region was 48,610, plus approximately 5,000 transient workers. The Pilbara has a high proportion of resident males and a high population of Aboriginal people with a younger age structure compared with the non-Aboriginal population.
Despite economic growth, the Pilbara region has areas with very low SEIFA scores, limited housing affordability and availability and a high cost of living. From 2003/07 Pilbara residents had a significantly higher mortality rate with more than half of these avoidable with the use of primary intervention. Lifestyle behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity were identified as key factors affecting health, with the burden of disease significantly higher in Aboriginal people
The health workforce
The Pilbara workforce turnover averages at 20% compared with 11% nationally, however in 2008, WA Country Health Service – Pilbara Health had a workforce turnover of between 42%-72% and a vacancy rate of 20%-40%. This turnover and vacancy rate continues to be a problem. Inconsistent workforce capacity impacts service quality and continuity, particularly in primary health. This is evidenced by 2010/11 data where three-quarters of attendances to hospitals within the Pilbara were for semi-urgent or non-urgent cases, and there was a high rate of avoidable hospitalisations (three times the rate when compared with WA population).
Existing literature extensively describes difficulties in recruiting and retaining health professionals in rural and remote areas. Factors such as workplace arrangements, clinical and management issues and personal factors are well defined. There is also compelling evidence that rural and remote health professionals experience:
high workloads with limited capacity to mentor and supervise students;
professional isolation, poor access to education and training, and limited opportunity for career advancement;
high levels of responsibility beyond professional capacity, particularly for new graduates; and,
a lack of cultural competence.
Whilst the Pilbara offers an amazing landscape and eye opening experience and adventure for health science students, there is limited capacity for Pilbara based health professionals to provide students a quality, positive and culturally secure rural experience that encourages them to desire to return to the Pilbara on graduation. There is limited access to cultural education and mentorship; few opportunities for inter-disciplinary learning; poor access to local academic and peer support, and there are few opportunities for people (particularly Aboriginal people) to access culturally secure health career pathways within the Pilbara.
Access to health education, learning and development
There are multiple Pilbara-based and visiting health and health related service providers who struggle to access or provide the appropriate infrastructure to facilitate health education, learning and development in the Pilbara community. In Karratha there is limited access to higher education learning with academic support; no 'hot desks'; limited access to appropriate training facilities that are AV and IT enabled, and few services with the capacity to share infrastructure through collaborative arrangements.
A New Approach
The GP Superclinic in Karratha completed in 2016, provides the necessary infrastructure that allows a clear focus on delivering diversity in health education, learning and development.
Description of Infrastructure to be constructed:
|Tutorial room||1 room with capacity for 8 – 10 people. IT and AV enabled|
|Reception/waiting area||1 station, IT enabled|
|Student hot desk area/ library||1 room, 3 workstations, IT enabled.|
|Consulting rooms||2 rooms, IT and AV enabled|
|Offices||2 offices, IT enabled|
|Administration area||2 stations, IT enabled|
|Common area||Kitchen and staff area, Room with capacity for 15 people. IT and AV enabled|
|Storage area||1 room|
|Ablutions||Staff and public facilities|
An Alignment of Vision and Commitment
This project strongly aligns with the national agenda and demonstrates an innovative approach. It builds upon existing relationships and collaborations between tertiary and vocational education sectors, health service providers and the local Pilbara community.
WACRH’s commitment to this project is underpinned by support from the WA Country Health Service, the Kimberley-Pilbara Medicare Local, Rural Health West, WAGPET, the Rural Clinical School, State Dental Health Services, Wirraka Maya Health Service Aboriginal Corporation, Innawonga, Banlyma, Nlapalli Aboriginal Corporation, Mawarnkarra Health Service, Pilbara Meta Maya Aboriginal Corporation, Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation, Rangelands NRM and discipline specific schools of health science universities around Australia.
This innovative model incorporates the values of sustainability, collaboration, cultural security and excellence in providing real opportunities to address the health workforce issues in the Pilbara. The project has a strong focus on social and emotional wellbeing of the local community as well as building health workforce capacity in the Pilbara. Clearly, this project demonstrates WACRH’s vision and intent and meets the expressed need of the community.
Mental Health Space
WACRH contributed $1Million (with funds coming from the Commonwealth Government) for the development of a Social and Emotional Wellbeing Hub as part of the Super Clinic project. The Hub aims to build capacity within our students, staff and partners to identify and apply effective solutions to reduce priority mental health and social problems for communities in the Pilbara. The facility is also expected to broaden access and experiences for Allied Health student experiences in the Pilbara region.