National Rural Health Commissioner impressed by Goondiwindi health services

National Rural Health Commissioner Professor Paul Worley (front, right) meets with local health professionals at Goondiwindi Medical Centre.
National Rural Health Commissioner Professor Paul Worley (front, right) meets with local health professionals at Goondiwindi Medical Centre.

Australia’s first National Rural Health Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Paul Worley, was impressed by Goondiwindi’s success with the Rural Generalist Program when he visited town on Tuesday. 

The program is a supported learning pathway aimed at expanding doctors’ skills to prepare them for the challenges of rural service. 

“The program aims to have graduates who are happy to work in rural areas, who are general practitioners by craft group; but who bring an extra skill into that community that the community needs,” Goondiwindi Hospital medical superintendent Dr Sue Masel said.

Professor Worley met with mayor Graeme Scheu and every local doctor, including interns, students, registrars and full time clinicians. 

“The improvements to the health services here in Goondiwindi are really quite significant,” he said.

“This program has been an outstanding success for this community.”

The visit was part of three day tour, which included Toowoomba, Inglewood and Stanthorpe.

The National Rural Health Commissioner is a new role, first appointed in November last year. The role, which requires Professor Worley to act as an independent advocate and negotiator, received bipartisan federal government support.

Professor Worley’s current focus is in developing the Rural Generalist pathway, which will be implemented all over Australia. 

“What that means is I have to develop a training program to train doctors to work in rural and remote communities, where they need general practice, emergency and other specialist skills to be able to work across all of the different areas of medicine that are required by that community,” he said. 

“I think it is a really important step forward that there is now a federally-appointed Rural Health Commissioner, because we’ve needed someone at that top level to help all of the quite spread out, and quite different-in-their-thinking parts of the rural medical community come together,” Dr Masel said.

She said it was also important to have someone visit the various Rural Generalist sites to spread information on how other areas tackle specific problems. 

“The Darling Downs Hospital health service run the Rural Generalist program for Queensland, and have as much experience in this as anywhere in Australia – in fact, probably anywhere in the world,” Professor Worley said.

“So it was an obvious first place for me to come and visit to see, on the ground, how this has made a difference to health services, to communities, to the professionals who work in them, to the people who are training here,” he said. 

Professor Worley said that Goondiwindi had shown him how attractive the Rural Generalist program can be for many doctors, who love the breadth of learning available. 

“They can be involved in comprehensive general practice in Goondiwindi, they can go across the border and practice in the Aboriginal medical service as a GP, they can do emergency work in the hospital, they can look after obstetric patients, they can provide anesthetics – it’s a fabulous experience for them,” he said.

Dr Masel said that the special skills taught in the Rural Generalist program was the reason the local hospital can support a rural birthing unit. She said the size of the hospital and pool of local doctors attracted even more doctors to Goondiwindi. 

Professor Worley said that if the program remains attractive, it allows doctors in rural areas to maintain a healthy work/life balance as more health professionals are drawn to town. He said this is evident in Goondiwindi, which now has 15 doctors.

Professor Worley said the improved services here meant fewer patients had to be transferred and more women can deliver their babies locally.

“In the end, all of this is done because patients in rural communities deserve the same quality care as if they were living in Brisbane. That needs to be provided in a different way, but we can’t afford for that to be lesser quality,” he said.