Indigenous group to take over healthcare delivery in ‘Australian first’ trial

Delivering primary health care in Queensland’s largest indigenous community will be handed over to a community-controlled group in an Australian first.


The new model of indigenous health care will be presented by the Queensland government to Australia’s health ministers at a conference in Cairns tomorrow.

Gurriny Yealamucka has been given 12 months to prove it can provide primary health care to the almost 3,000 residents of Yarrabah, near Cairns, in far-north Queensland.

“This will be the first time in Queensland, indeed in Australia, where there’s been a significant transition of a state-controlled primary health service to an indigenous-controlled primary health care organisation,” said Queensland health minister Lawrence Springborg.

“There’s a lot of research around that says if you can empower them, if you can give them the control, you get far better outcomes with the health services that are provided.”

Yarrabah’s council fought for three decades for community control of primary health, spurred in part by a shocking youth suicide rate in the 1990s.

“It’s a milestone, a big step for our community. It brings a lot of pride to our community that Yarrabah is leading the way in health,” said Yarrabah mayor Errol Neal.

Yarrabah, like many indigenous communities, suffers from high rates of chronic disease, social disadvantage and legacy of the Stolen Generation.

It has been a long and at times difficult journey and the transition is an emotional moment for Sue Andrews, chief executive of the Gurriny Yealamucka primary health service.

“I think of the elders, sitting under the tree, talking about community control. They’re the people who aren’t here today that would have seen their vision come to fruition,” said Ms Andrews.

“When you look at community control, it encompasses clinical health as well as social health, meaning we don’t just fix the individual, but the family and the whole community.”

The Queensland government says the transition will cut service duplication but not Yarrabah’s health budget.

“There’s plenty of money in health care, no-one should think otherwise,” said Mr Springborg.

“What we’ve had is a lot of waste in health care in the past few years, lots of duplication and triplication of with regards to the delivery of services, there’s a lack of co-ordination, disjointed systems, and real losers have been indigenous patients.”

The Queensland government is planning to hand over control of primary health in more than a dozen indigenous communities across the state.