Dubbo forum boosts bid for 'long-term' primary healthcare workforce

MILESTONE:  Chief executive officer of the NSW Rural Doctors Network Richard Colbran called the  primary health workforce forum at Taronga Western Plains Zoo a "milestone" event. Photo: Kim Bartley
MILESTONE: Chief executive officer of the NSW Rural Doctors Network Richard Colbran called the primary health workforce forum at Taronga Western Plains Zoo a "milestone" event. Photo: Kim Bartley

More than 30 primary healthcare providers sick of being short-staffed have put their heads together at a “milestone” forum in Dubbo.

They are being encouraged to “go beyond short-term solutions” to their workforce woes and together pursue a “long-term” workforce in Western NSW.

The Western NSW Primary Health Network (WNSW PHN) , Western NSW Local Health District, Far West Local Health District and the NSW Rural Doctors Network (RDN) set the wheels in motion for the forum almost 12 months ago. All of the 32 organisations invited to the forum in the Savannah Room at Taronga Western Plains Zoo sent representatives.

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The WNSW PHN has provided funding for the RDN to undertake what it calls the Western NSW Long-Term Workforce Planning Project.

“As of today we will have an agreement from these organisations to work cooperatively together and with a long-term vision to build that sustained workforce,” RDN chief executive officer (CEO) Richard Colbran said before the forum began on Wednesday.  

“Our goal today is to have all of the organisations that are dealing with similar issues around recruitment and retention and planning to actually come together and talk and share and learn from each other, and look to build a way forward in a cooperative way.”

The CEO later suggested the sharing of health professionals by organisations.

“The key challenge here is to actually coordinate which organisations can engage which professions and whether pooling our resources across organisations is the best way to give people really meaningful employment across regions,” he said.

“So at the moment you have situations where one organisation might have a 0.2 role available for a speech pathologist but 100 kilometres away there might be another organisation with funding for 0.4.”

On Wednesday morning Mr Colbran could not put a number on medical, allied and associated health staff vacancies in the region. 

“The reality is it’s a very big region and there’s lots of work needed to secure and recruit and then retain the workforce and we always need to be thinking about building the pool as well,” he said.

But “at any one time” there might be between 150 and 200 GP vacancies across rural NSW, the CEO said.

The forum included a presentation on the long-standing Western NSW Eye Health Partnership which Mr Colbran called an “exemplar” of cooperation with up to 12 different organisations working together to “support eye health”.

Forum participants were also set to hear from the inaugural Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Paul Worley, on a tour of GP practices in the region.

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