Goodooga Health Service saved

A determined campaign by the local community in small-town Goodooga has forced a backdown by GWAHS over plans to pan the local health service.

The small town of Goodooga in the state’s remote northwest has shown that community action and organisation can achieve positive results for remote area healthcare.

The community of 400 was outraged in July last year when the Greater West Area Health Service (GWAHS) announced its plans to close the town’s primary health care service, leaving it without a registered nurse, ambulance or emergency services, and replacing them with only a phone link to health care in Lightning Ridge, 75km away.

Goodooga’s population is predominantly indigenous, and the announcement was ‘a kick in the guts’ for Aboriginal people living in remote communities, said NSW Aboriginal Land Council representative Steve Gordon, especially when the Federal Government is channelling funds towards closing the 17-year gap in life expectancy in indigenous communities.

‘It flies in the face of repeated statements by the State and Federal Governments that they were going to do more, not less, to improve Aboriginal health standards and life expectancy,’ said Steve, after the plan to close the health centre was announced.

The community’s indignation – which manifested itself in protests from all parts of the community, both indigenous and non-indigenous, and was supported by the NSWNA – caused the GWAHS to agree to an independent review of the town’s health care needs and facilities. This review, initiated by The Aboriginal Lands Council and conducted by The Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation at the University of New South Wales, recommended that the emergency service and registered nurse be retained in the Goodooga health centre, and the currently vacant position of nurse practitioner be filled.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the recommendations were a great win for Goodooga, and for all remote communities.

‘All Australians deserve access to quality healthcare, irrespective of the size of the town or where they live. The case also shows that when a community unites and gets behind an issue it can achieve real results.

‘The NSWNA will keep up pressure on the GWAHS to ensure it fully implements the report’s recommendations,’ said Brett.

The recommendation to fill the position of rural nurse practitioner in Goodooga is of particular significance for the community. Olwyn Johnston, who in 2001 became the first recognised nurse practitioner in NSW, previously held the position at Goodooga until she became ill in 2006. The position has not been filled since.

‘A nurse practitioner will provide a very high level of broad expertise to address the small community’s health needs,’ said Brett.