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Better Health for the Bush - A Primary Health Network Initiative

Access to primary care services is crucial for promoting wellness and closing the gap in life expectancy, particularly in rural areas. Recognising this, the Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network (HNECC PHN) is dedicated to enhancing rural health access and improving health outcomes.

Data shows that rural communities often have lower life expectancies and face challenges in accessing healthcare, exacerbated by a shortage of healthcare professionals, especially General Practitioners (GPs), in Australia's rural regions.

To address these issues, the PHN has committed to piloting and implementing innovative models to attract and retain healthcare providers, collaborating closely with communities and professionals to ensure solutions are tailored to local needs.

The Better Health for the Bush (BHFTB) Framework, developed by the PHN in partnership with the Hunter New England Local Health District and the University of New England. The Framework guides the PHN in establishing rural health teams consisting of varied professions, utilising innovative models of care and integrating digital solutions to improve access, support localised recruitment, and implement pilot programs.

Small Town Engagement Model (STEM)

One such model is the Small Town Engagement Model (STEM), empowering healthcare providers to collaborate and expand services in rural areas, particularly in towns with populations under 5000. For example, after thirty years without a local GP, the community of Spring Ridge celebrated the arrival of one, offering both in-person and telehealth consultations. The collaboration is with the local pharmacy, where the GP utilises a private consultation room, streamlining patient care and accessibility.

The benefits of this approach are many: the GP can easily deliver services, the pharmacist can assist with prescriptions, and the community enjoys convenient access to healthcare, saving time and money. Supported by PHN funding, the hybrid GP telehealth service pilot, aims to expand across the New England North West region, creating a networked model of care.

Under the STEM program, innovative ideas were sought form the community to bridge digital and in-person health services, ensuring seamless healthcare experiences for rural residents. The results of these initiatives, including successful funding ideas, will be published mid-late 2024, further advancing the goal of improving health outcomes in rural communities.

Glen Innes Health Hub

Recently it was announced that the PHN had successfully secured a grant under the Federal Government’s Innovative Models of Care (IMOC) Program, which will see the establishment of a Health Hub in Glen Innes. The program will pilot and trial new health care models, designed to reduce workforce shortages and improve access to health services.

The Health Hub aims to meet community needs through a team-based approach and may introduce new or enhance existing services. It will be supported by digital solutions and assistance so the community can navigate the health system effectively.

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