AITHM James Cook University

04 February 2020

Without adequate community-based services, many Far North Queensland residents with disabilities face an uncertain future when it comes to accessing crucial health support.

JCU is coordinating an ambitious project which aims to reform the delivery of Far North Queensland community-based child development, disability and rehabilitation services.

Funded by the Northern Queensland Primary Health Network, the aim of the FNQ Community Rehabilitation & Lifestyle Services project is to develop a business plan for a new region-specific service model designed to help local service providers address a range of challenges impacting service delivery, and better meet expectations of care for the people of FNQ.

The business plan will encompass the implementation and evaluation of the new service model over a five-year period.

Project manager, JCU Associate Professor Ruth Barker, who has a longstanding commitment to innovative health service delivery in Northern Australia, said reform was urgently needed. Many service providers in the region faced major challenges to meet national standards.

“FNQ presents unique challenges to service delivery, including remoteness and cultural diversity. Existing services are often under-resourced, fragmented, or unsuitable in the face of the challenges of living and working in this region,” she said.

“Chronic conditions caused by disease, disability and injury place an enormous burden of care on FNQ communities, families and individuals, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

The advent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) had brought new opportunities, but also further challenges.

“The NDIS represents a shift from a provider model which is more reliant on government services, to a purchaser model that is more reliant on private services. For this reason, transition to NDIS could impact heavily on remote communities, which typically rely on government services. There are few private service providers available and even fewer that have well-established relationships with remote communities,” said A/Professor Barker.

In line with national standards, the new service model aims to adopt a holistic, people-centred approach to service delivery – focussing on the health needs and expectations of individuals, families and communities, rather than on diseases.

The design of both the business plan and service model will be shaped by the results of an extensive stakeholder engagement initiative currently underway across four sites: Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands, Kowanyama and Thursday Island.

JCU researchers on the project team are conducting focus groups and interviews with individuals – and families – with lived experience of disability, to gain their perspective on their needs and aspirations for a healthy, happy life in FNQ and how services could be improved to help fulfil them.

Three reference groups – Consumer, Service Provider and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – have been established to provide advice and guidance to the project team. The service providers include representatives of government health and education services, and Aboriginal community controlled health organisations. Other stakeholders, such as local councils, have also been invited to contribute.

“The project has been well received, with very good buy-in from individuals and organisations within the region,” observed A/Professor Barker. 

She said the new service model aimed to deliver better outcomes under current funding arrangements, in order to guarantee sustainability. But a case would also be prepared for additional resources to assist service providers to meet national standards.

“The model will be designed to get the best bang for our buck; achieve the best possible services with the dollars we have and gain further funding to enable our services to reach national standards,” she emphasised.

“In the end, we want individuals to live happier, healthier, longer lives, receiving integrated, people-centred healthcare in their own communities. We need to ensure that this project leads to new and innovative strategies to strengthen the capacity of FNQ communities to support their residents.”

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