A new toolkit aimed at helping regional and rural councils attract and retain health workers to their communities has been launched by the Local Government Association of SA (LGASA) amid the ongoing shortage of health professionals across regional South Australia.
The Regional Health Workforce Toolkit has been developed in conjunction with medical professionals as a guide for councils to create support systems and facilitate ways to make regional jobs more attractive and rewarding, along with ways to advocate for better funding.
The toolkit identifies:
- where direct action falls within the scope of local government, such as supporting infrastructure for regional health services;
- how local government can facilitate action, such as bringing together key stakeholders, establishing or maintaining support networks and securing state and federal funding;
- opportunities for regions of councils and the LGA to play a role in advocating for better outcomes.
LGA President Mayor, Dean Johnson acknowledged the challenging and complex nature of the health system, and the supporting role councils often play to deliver good outcomes for communities.
“While councils aren’t directly involved in the provision of health services, these are vitally important for the wellbeing of communities and councils will often have a close understanding of the gaps in healthcare needs,” Mayor Johnson said.
“We need multi-government collaboration to begin to resolve health worker shortages and ensure regional communities get better access to health professionals and care.
“In my local community of Kimba, I’ve seen first-hand the challenges of attracting qualified health workers and the strategies needed to get workers to take up opportunities in the country.
“Even when council is the driver, successful workforce attraction and retention requires support from across the community – like other employers, real estate agents, childcare providers and schools.
“The Regional Health Workforce Toolkit has been created to give councils some guidance on the processes they can follow to foster attractive, supportive environments for GPs, nurses or other health workers who are considering career moves to regional areas.
“In developing the Toolkit, we have considered successful models and methods, had discussions with regions that are doing it well, and tested the principles with regional councils.”
As part of the toolkit, several case studies are featured to show how local outcomes have been delivered.
Wudinna on the Eyre Peninsula is one local government area that has experienced these challenges first-hand, despite recently recruiting a new GP to the region.
Alongside supporting the development of a multi-purpose medical hub, Council invested in a 12-seater bus and offered subsidised travel to health services in regional centres but found it tough to access drivers with appropriate qualifications.
Wudinna District Council Mayor, Eleanor Scholz said her Council had been proactive in devising and trialling many new ways to bring skilled health workers into their region.
“Our actions, coupled with the generosity of a local landowner, support of local ratepayers and Commonwealth Government Grant Funds, has helped form our local government owned multi-purpose health building which has become a crucial hub in our community,” Mayor Scholz said.
“It’s through funding, initiatives like the Regional Health Workforce Toolkit and the shared experiences of regional councils, that local governments can be supported as they seek to attract much-needed health services and GPs to their districts.”
Treasurer of the Rural Doctors Association of SA and Rural GP, Dr Scott Lewis said collaboration with councils was a key step in understanding the gaps in local community health services.
“It is essential that local government is closely involved in the planning and delivery of health services – they are best positioned to respond to the needs of their local community,” Dr Lewis said.
“This toolkit considers all the factors necessary to build a sustainable health workforce and provides sensible approaches to overcoming the many challenges that may be encountered.
“I have worked closely with Wudinna District Council for many years to develop their health strategy – this collaboration has paid dividends in the recruitment of a GP and providing sustainability in allied health services.”
Susi Tegen, Chief Executive of the National Rural Health Alliance said the toolkit provided a helpful workforce pathway for regional and rural councils to adopt and could support stronger collaboration between all levels of government.
“This toolkit provides a fantastic framework for councils to aid the development of a local health strategy for and with their communities,” Ms Tegen said.
“In addition, it allows for a grass roots approach to multi-disciplinary workforce planning and development.
“Local, state and federal governments need to work together and support communities through funding, policy and legislation. This toolkit is an important template to start the process.”
The Regional Health Workforce Toolkit can be accessed at: lga.sa.gov.au/regional-health-toolkit.