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Health workforce lift for NT in Alice Springs

Students gathered at the Better Health Futures Symposium.
The 2023 Better Health Futures Symposium in Alice Springs aims to build a robust rural and remote health workforce in, and for, the Northern Territory.

Finding solutions to the dire challenges facing the health workforce in rural and remote areas to better support Territorians, particularly First Nations people, is the focus of a Symposium at the Convention Centre in Alice Springs today.

To this end, the Better Health Futures Symposium will bring together the diverse perspectives and experience of influential leaders, rural and remote health experts, educators and researchers to address health challenges spanning the Northern Territory.

For instance high staff turnover, high job vacancy rates and low staff retention resulting in critical staff shortages. Plus a decline in Aboriginal health practitioners and international medical graduates, clinic closures, clients not visiting a GP and lacking care plans for chronic conditions.

The Symposium is presented by Charles Darwin University (CDU) in partnership with Menzies School of Health Research, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) and NT Health.

CDU Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Hilary Winchester AM said it provides a progressive forum to build better health futures for all Territorians and follows the success of the inaugural Symposium in Alice Springs in April last year. 

“The Symposium reflects CDU’s deep commitment to the Northern Territory and our initiatives to invigorate the health and wellbeing of its communities, especially those in Alice Springs,” Professor Winchester said.

“It provides the framework and momentum for new measures and strategic planning to help lift the rural and remote workforce. Key to this will be health and medical training developed specifically for the cross-cultural context of health service delivery in the NT.

“To achieve this objective, the CDU Menzies School of Medicine aims to establish a place-based medical program that is locally led and designed by NT experts – educators, researchers, clinicians and healthcare professionals.”

AMSANT Acting Chief Executive Officer Dr Donna Ah Chee said the Symposium will help address major health issues, such as the life expectancy of First Nations people in the NT.

“While the life expectancy gap in the Northern Territory is still unacceptable there has been substantial improvement over the past two decades, with a nine-year improvement in life expectancy for men and almost five years for women,” Dr Ah Chee said.

“Our sector has been critical in leading these gains. However the progress we have made will stall if we do not urgently address the workforce crisis we are now facing.

“Many of our services are facing severe shortages of health professionals, leading to reduced services and temporary clinic closures.

“This crisis has been building for a long time and we must consider short, medium and long-term solutions which AMSANT will outline at this Symposium.”

With a keynote presentation by Australia’s first Regional Education Commissioner, Fiona Nash, the event will explore how the Symposium partners can design, implement and evaluate First Nations education pathways to increase Aboriginal employment in rural and remote health.

This focus builds on key findings of the 2022 Symposium, which identified the importance of employing Aboriginal people at all levels of health services to improve patient care, increase cultural safety and remedy the crisis shortage of rural and remote NT nurses.

It also identified the need for a First Nations health workforce that is locally trained in multi-disciplinary teams to provide primary care, on-country health champions and Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations to deliver healthcare customised for Aboriginal people.

The Symposium runs from 8am until 5pm. More information here.

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