Where have PHNs come from?
The role of regional health organisations has evolved over many years, starting with Divisions of General Practice in the 1990s. From 2011, Divisions were replaced with Medicare Locals. Medicare Locals had additional funding and a broader role to develop cooperation and collaboration between health care professionals, particularly for managing chronic conditions, undertaking population health planning, identifying gaps, and in many cases, providing services.
In 2015, the role of regional health organisations evolved again, and 31 PHNs were established, replacing Medicare Locals.
Some PHNs have operated formerly as Medicare Locals, and even Divisions of General Practice; some within the same regions. Other PHNs have been established as new organisations, and/or with different geographical boundaries. As such, the history of individual PHNs in their communities varies greatly.
The role of PHNs as commissioners, rather than service providers, is a key difference between Medicare Locals and PHNs, and represents a fundamental shift in the way healthcare services are planned for and funded at the regional level.
Western Queensland Primary Health Network
Covering more than half of Queensland, the Western Queensland Primary Health Network (WQPHN) is one of the most unique PHNs in Australia. We have the smallest population overall, and most sparsely populated region with only one person per 13 square kilometres. Our PHN covers some of the most remote country in Australia.
As a new start-up company with negligible corporate, operational or financial resources accrued from the former Medicare Local program, WQPHN had an enormous task. Our organisation developed the fundamental corporate and program capabilities necessary to ensure the seamless transition of clinical contracts and services, and build relationships across the various local, regional and State sectors to introduce the Commonwealth’s program in Western Queensland.
After a significant ‘hands-on’ approach from the WQPHN Board during the establishment phase of the Company, the second half of the year saw rapidly increasing capability development, staffing recruitment and significant professional network enablement. There has been excellent leadership demonstrated through the Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive networks, which have collaborated closely with the WQPHN Executive team to build relationships and explore new collaborative opportunities. This commitment has been instrumental in guiding the bilateral engagement across organisations, but also in laying a solid foundation to support joint planning and alignment of shared priorities going forward.
The first year of operations has largely been an organisational transition, however the development of the WQPHN commissioning framework will now guide the transition of service providers towards the strategic system redesign and shared health priorities highlighted in the Health Needs assessment and 2020 Plan. The support of our general practice and service provider networks in this process of change, combined with their professionalism, willingness to adapt and keenness to collaborate, has been a feature of our engagement in the first year of operations. These relationships will continue to develop and reinforce the efficacy and inter-sectoral collaboration needed to support comprehensive primary health care in local settings.