Responding to the needs of disadvantaged rural communities

10 May 2012

Young children and families in the Broken Hill area will benefit from a number of new health clinics to be established as a result of federal government budget funding for the University of Sydney.

A grant of $4.7 million from the Federal Health and Hospitals Fund will enable the establishment of multidisciplinary allied health clinics to be run through public and private primary schools in Broken Hill. As many as seven health facilities will be established across the community with five new buildings being constructed and existing space in two schools will be refurbished to accommodate on-site health programs.

One of the main aims of the program is to improve child development, educational outcomes and family wellbeing for Broken Hill residents, as well as enabling clinical training opportunities for students at the University's Broken Hill Department of Rural Health.

Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney applauded the announcement. "I commend both the Federal Minister for Health and the Department for recognising the innovative nature of this program of student-run clinics based in Broken Hill."

The new multi-purpose facilities will provide much needed infrastructure to support the communities growing Allied Health service learning programs. These programs see final year University of Sydney students from the disciplines of speech pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, dietetics and orthoptics working with local schools, children, families, clinicians, and academics to provide screening, assessment, treatment and referral services for primary school children and their families. To date over 200 health science students have undertaken their clinical fieldwork experience in the primary school setting with over 1000 primary school children coming into contact with the program.

"We are keen to work with the local community to address their unmet health needs by focussing on disease prevention and early detection in young children," Dr Spence said.

One of the significant aspects of this program is that it takes primary health care to the child in the school setting and involves close partnerships across health, education, community and university faculties.

"This model of delivering health care means that local children will have the opportunity to receive a range of allied health services, which historically have been extremely difficult for them to access," said Deb Jones, Director of Primary Health Care with the Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health. "Our schools are supported in providing a holistic approach to the education and health needs of the children, whilst university students have the opportunity to gain invaluable insight into rural and remote practice in the region," she said.

"One of the long-term benefits of this program is that it will do a lot to attract, train and retain health professionals in the region. At the same time the university students will be direct role models for the primary school children. We're hoping that some of them will start considering careers in health through their interactions with these university students," Ms Jones said.

The initiative has been warmly welcomed by the Mayor of Broken Hill, Councillor Wincen Cuy. "This further consolidates the recent MoU signed between Broken Hill City Council and the University of Sydney. Our 15-year relationship with the University through the Department of Rural Health in Broken Hill is highly valued within the community," he said.

"Great outcomes such as this show that rural communities have the capacity to tackle their challenges head on and achieve with local solutions. Having a strong partnership with a university that is located and invested within our region is invaluable," the Mayor said.

Stuart Riley, Chief Executive of the Far West Local Health District says the student service learning approach to improve child development and family wellbeing for Broken Hill residents will ensure the health services are accessible, high quality and community-orientated. "The local community will benefit from this collaborative approach between health and non-health organisations at the same time as building a health workforce for rural and remote communities."

Construction of the seven new multipurpose health facilities is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

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