EW England Medicare Local is stepping up the services it provides across the region, as community demand continues to increase.
Clinical services network co-ordinator Therese Greenlees told a New England Mutual business breakfast in Guyra last week that in 2012/13, the branch had recorded 10,000 mental health and 10,000 allied health service visits, a considerable increase from previous years.
Services included the likes of podiatry, physiotherapy and preventative health checks in smaller communities across the region, and mental health assessments and education and carer support.
The New England branch is one of 61 Medicare Locals across the nation, established three years ago as part of a $1.8 billion federal government scheme to help co-ordinate and deliver extra health services, including after-hours GP services, immunisation, mental health support and eHealth programs.
The branch, which incorporates the former Barwon, New England and North West Slopes divisions of general practice, services more than 20 communities and employs 137 staff, including 88 in Aboriginal health and clinical services.
It also contracts 70 medical specialists and private allied health professionals, and supports more than 180 general practitioners in 60 practices across the network.
Mrs Greenlees said their aim was “to keep people healthy and out of hospital”.
“That means identifying health problems as early as possible, providing advice and access to the services needed as close to home as possible,” she said.
“It’s difficult to assess exactly how many people we keep out of hospital but the take-up of our services and demand is increasing.
“We are providing more programs, particularly in small and isolated communities.
“People are getting better support to manage chronic diseases at home and the Aboriginal community is responding positively to initiatives we offer to improve their health outcomes.”
The future of Medicare Locals has come under a cloud in recent weeks, with speculation the federal government will cease funding them and introduce a smaller number of organisations to co-ordinate services.
Health Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed his government has reviewed the Medicare Local arrangements and was preparing to make an announcement soon.