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31 January 2022

New beginnings in the Far North

New beginnings in the Far North

If you want to know what regional GP training opportunities mean for rural and remote communities, just look to Weipa. This small mining town in Far North Queensland has an expanding dialysis unit, a new Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) outreach program, and very soon will have a dedicated maternity service delivering babies in town for the first time in almost two decades. It’s a health movement that’s changing lives, and it’s largely driven by GP registrars.

Heavily involved in these exciting new developments is Dr Will Horwood. Inspired to pursue rural medicine from his parents work as GPs in Papua New Guinea, he arrived in 2015 with his young family, completed his fellowship with James Cook University (JCU), and is now a Medical Educator and supervisor at Weipa Integrated Health Service.

“There has been a real clarity of purpose with the JCU GP Training Program,” Dr Horwood says. “The priority is addressing real needs and improving services to regional and rural and remote communities. For me working in such a remote place, it's been nice to nice to be part of this broader mission.”

Birth of a new era: The Weipa Maternity Project

In the past 12 months, the community has seen the development and approval of the Weipa Maternity Project. Funding from Queensland Health will increase the number of doctors in Weipa to enable birthing services in town and offer primary care services to surrounding areas. Dr Horwood is currently involved in the preparation phase of the project and understands what dedicated maternity facilities will mean for the women of Weipa.

“The impact of having these maternity services up here is going to be really profound for a lot of women and their families. It will mean they won’t have to leave town at 36 weeks of their pregnancy, where they’d be hundreds of kilometres away from their families and support networks,” Dr Horwood says.

Hearing the need: The launch of Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists

The Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Project, championed by JCU GP Registrar Dr Steve Johnston, launched in late 2020 in response to the impact of ear disease across the region. The outreach clinics provide treatment and education to communities all through the Cape to Cooktown and surrounds.

“We’ve seen kids with chronic ear infections develop hearing loss because they didn’t get the appropriate treatment. This affects their educational outcomes, which means their whole life is impacted. We’re hopeful the ENT Outreach Program will make a really big difference to these kids, their families, and the wider community here,” Dr Horwood says.

Addressing the rise of chronic kidney disease

Kidney conditions are a major concern for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities, and according to Dr Horwood the problem is only going to get bigger without preventative and early-stage care.

Under the medical leadership of Dr Andrea Miller, Weipa’s Chronic Kidney Disease Prevention Program is now in its third year. The program was recently strengthened further with the addition of dialysis services.

“This program is not only targeted at delaying, if not preventing, the need for dialysis, but also making the process easier for those who do have to start dialysis as it will limit the need for patients to travel,” Dr Horwood says.

Hands-on training

With exciting health service developments and hands-on experience, Dr Horwood is naturally a big advocate for the GP Training opportunities in Weipa.

“Training here is valuable experience for any doctor, but as a GP, it gives you such a solid grounding in everything from primary care through to serious acute emergency medicine."

“If you want to feel like you’re genuinely contributing to local health services, then Weipa is a great place to come. We honestly couldn’t do without our GP registrars.” Dr Horwood says.

“There are a lot of good people here who make this a great place to live. It’s a beautiful part of the world and we love exploring. We’ve always felt so welcome in Weipa. We came here with one child, and now we’ve had another three, and we’ve just really enjoyed it here,” Dr Horwood says.

NQRTH is an initiative of the Australian Government's Integrated Rural Training Pipeline (IRTP) and is facilitated by James Cook University in partnership with public and private hospitals, Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC), health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and GP clinics.

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