IN our special series to date on the findings of West Moreton Health’s (WMH) LANA Report we have laid bare the crippling toll of our region’s mental health crisis and examined the social barriers plaguing the community’s right to better health outcomes.
In this week’s edition we look at the two major challenges facing our region as the local population explodes and also the uncertain outlook in terms of better healthcare access for those living in rural communities.
By 2020 the WMH region’s population was estimated at over 300,000 people and this figure is continuing to grow at a fast rate.
So fast in fact that the Chair of the West Morton Health Board Michael Willis has declared the region is the quickest growing in Queensland.
“That means we’ve got a ballooning demand for our health services which we have to meet from within a finite level of funding and that equates to a higher level of chronic disease and poor health outcomes,” Mr Willis said.
This trend is only set to continue too, with figures showing that between 2019 and 2041 our population will grow at 4.4 per cent, the highest relative growth rate across the state.
This growth means communities in Ripley, Rosewood, Springfield Lakes and Brookwater can expect population booms between five and 13 per cent between 2019 and 2041.
West Moreton Health’s CEO Hannah Bloch reiterated the impact of this population explosion by putting context to the figures found within the LANA Report.
“A population the size of Beaudesert moves to the West Moreton Region every year and we need to anticipate what that means for health care,” Ms Bloch said.
“By 2036 the population will have almost doubled to 580,000 people, and that’s only 14 years away.
“For us to be able to meet that need, we need to truly understand what is important to our consumers.”
With this sheer level of numbers comes a level of population pain in relation to healthcare and WMH expect an increased surge in demand for healthcare services.
OVER 65’S WILL SWAMP REGION
What’s more, the over 65 cohort is anticipated to reach 65 per cent between 2018 and 2026, again representing the highest growth within this cohort across Queensland.
Unsurprisingly, an elderly population will only compound these issues and consequently, the LANA Report warns of people already experiencing high wait times, a lack of provider capacity and limited responsiveness, with this trend looking set to worsen in the short term.
West Moreton Health Chief Strategy Officer Claire Barratt said WMH has participated in the development of a joint regional plan to address this growing elderly population.
“A key learning was that 80 per cent of people needing support said they would like to continue living in their home and we have embedded this feedback into our models of service,” Ms Barratt said.
Intensifying these population problems however is the fact that 30 per cent of the region lives rurally, and these communities are facing an entirely different and additional set of issues.
RURAL LIFESTYLE HAS PROBLEMS
Mr Willis said there has been a historical legacy of problems with the region’s rural communities accessing healthcare.
“A third of our community have to go outside the region to obtain public health care,” Mr Willis said.
To combat this, Mr Willis says WMH have developed a strategic plan to articulate and measure how to deal with this challenge over the coming years.
In the interim however, rural communities from Boonah, Esk and Gatton to Lowood, Kilcoy and the Lockyer Valley continue to be plagued by transportation and access issues that are afflicting the health outcomes of residents.
Alarmingly, for those living in Esk and Gatton, GP services were found to be ‘significantly below the national benchmark’ and Kilcoy and Lowood residents can expect the longest trips to hospitals with an almost 30-kilometre distance to the nearest level three public acute hospital.
Young people too were not spared from the restrictive rural conditions, with youth in Lowood specifically identified as suffering poorer health outcomes due to a lack of transport options to health facilities.
BIGGER AND MORE SKILLED WORKFORCE
West Moreton Health Chief Strategy Officer Claire Barratt said WMH is looking at mitigating these challenges by upskilling and growing its workforce. WMH is undertaking a significant amount of work in delivering services that meet the needs of the community now and into the future,” Ms Barratt said.
“Workforce is also a growing challenge, not just for West Moreton but for the health sector, as we recover from the height of the pandemic and look to the future of our health services.
“One of West Moreton Health’s key strengths is found in our dedicated workforce who live and support the many communities across the region.”
Ms Barratt says WMH has also identified improving its infrastructure as a key element to addressing these future challenges.
“This includes providing much needed increase in new beds across the region, increasing clinical capabilities and collaborating with partners,” Ms Barratt said.
“We are also working with key health partners and service providers to improve access to services in rural areas, including the primary care sector.”