The mining boom is putting some rural health services under great pressure, suggests a study from Central Queensland’s Bowen Basin.
They show “a need to rethink the process of planning and resourcing health services in these communities”, she says.
Does the boom mean bust for health services in mining towns?
Sarah Constantine writes:
The Bowen Basin in Central Queensland is one of Australia’s fastest growing mining regions in Australia. Resource towns can benefit from this growth through the creation of more jobs and strengthened economies.
However, the unprecedented level of mining activity combined with the fast growing trend of non-resident workers has triggered concerns about the impact on health services.
Up to 40 per cent of the population of the towns of Moranbah and Dysart are non-residents.
The focus of our project, which was funded by local mining industry, was to identify issues affecting access to health services in these towns, and to identify potential models and strategies to ensure sustainable medical and allied health services and workforce.
The study found significant demand on health services by non-resident population.
Analysis of service activity data of three key local health services in Moranbah – the hospital, general practice and mental health services -found that non-residents account for between 25 and 30% of all health service presentations.
This represents a significant pressure on the health services and the limited health workforce.
Others findings included:
- Lack of access to radiology services
- Lack of knowledge among non-residents about appropriate health services
- Challenges in attracting and retaining health workforce due to lack of affordable housing, shortage of clinical space and limited childcare
- Uncoordinated health services planning by mining companies, leading to a disconnected local health service.
What progress has occurred?
- A Health Care Partnership Group has been established to be a representative group, inclusive of health and mining workforce. It aims to ensure a coordinated approach to planning to respond to the health needs and priorities of the community into the future.
- Potentially resourcing a “driver” to ensure the projects strategies are progressed into actions.
- Creating solutions for attracting and retaining visiting and resident health workforce through provision of affordable housing and clinical infrastructure including a successful bid for Royalties for the Regions grant to build a new medical centre in Dysart as well as the local MAC camp offering accommodation for visiting health professionals.
- Actively looking at options to develop public private partnerships to meet health service needs including occupational medicine and radiology services.
What still needs to happen?
The project identified that the non-resident population in the mining community of Moranbah have a significant impact on health services. This may be a similar issue for other mining communities.
The mining companies in the area have shown commitment to being a part of the solution, but a coordinated approach is required.
As workforce and service planning is usually based on resident population, and does not include non-resident workers, there is also an obvious under-allocation of health workforce and workforce support resources for these mining boom areas.
There is a need to rethink the process of planning and resourcing health services in these communities.
Future health service planning must take into account the numbers of fly in/fly out and drive in/drive out (FIFO/DIDO) workers in a community.
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