FUTURE: Northern NSW Local Health District is planning for the future.
FUTURE: Northern NSW Local Health District is planning for the future. Scott Powick

How healthcare will cater for explosive demand in 40 years

A POPULATION showing no signs of slowing means planning for the delivery of sustainable and accessible healthcare has taken on new levels of importance.

Northern NSW Local Health District Chief Executive, Wayne Jones, said with the new facilities provided through the $320 million Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment, they were future-proofing hospital and health services to be able to deliver the health care the community will need over the next 20 to 40 years.

He said the investments in health with hospital upgrades would bring a broad range of opportunities to the region, including better health outcomes, job creation, training and education opportunities and economic benefits.

Striving to become 'the leading regional health district in Australia'

The district is already casting forward and mapping out groundwork for the next 10 years with a Health Care Services Plan.

Mr Jones said the service will work towards being the "leading regional health district in Australia" over the next five to 10 years with a "vision to have a healthy community through quality care".

He said they are looking at planning health services in line with expected areas of population growth, as well as maintaining an equitable level of services across the LHD, ensuring appropriate access to health services for smaller population areas.

Mr Jones said they were planning services that will support the health of growing Aboriginal communities right across the district and 'Closing the Gap' was one of six strategic priorities for 2019-2024.

"People of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage currently make up around 5.4 per cent of our population and that's expected to grow by 24 per cent from 16,056 to 19,959 people by 2026, an increase of 2.2 per cent per annum," he said.

"This includes targeting programs and services to the specific health needs of Aboriginal communities, but also working in partnership with local Aboriginal Medical Services and other health providers, and ensuring that cultural safety is embedded in our public health services across the board.

"We have plans to increase our Aboriginal workforce and enhance employment and career opportunities, for example through cadetships within the health service."

Preparing for an ageing population

Over the next decade our population will to continue to age and grow, with the Northern NSW LHD population projected to increase by an extra 42,460 people (or 14 per cent) by 2036.

Mr Jones said a significant factor for the health sector is the proportion of people aged 65 years and over, which is expected to grow by 91 per cent in the next 10 years to account for more than one quarter of our population.

Recent data has revealed an average of 17,300 are presenting to local emergency departments each month - more than 208,000 patients a year.

"To help us meet growing demand, and to take our health services into the future, we're continuing to invest in Information Communication Technologies and Integrated Care to deliver even better patient outcomes and hospital services," Mr Jones said.

"The increasing digitalisation of health is also seeing new technologies being used in a variety of settings, including for electronic management of patient medications, patient records, and integration between our hospitals and local general practitioners.

"We are also committed to redesigning our models of care and the way we provide services to be as integrated and responsive to community needs as possible.

Future challenges

Mr Jones said the future of health care for the region will involve tackling an ever-growing aged population, together with the increasing challenge of chronic disease.

He said community-based services and investment will play a key role in addressing these challenges, as well as better integration with other health care providers already active in the community.

"At the regional level, we've just launched a new collaboration with Mid North Coast LHD and North Coast Primary Health Network to address social determinants affecting an individual's health and wellbeing, and in particular to drive change in how we provide mental health and drug and alcohol services.

"We want to create a system that is better connected, that puts the needs of patients and carers at its centre and gives them better lives."

'BIG IDEAS' innovation challenge

Mr Jones said as well as technological innovations that improve patient care, the health district was focusing on supporting a culture of research and innovation within our health workforce.

"We'll be fostering partnerships with education institutions to collaborate on research projects and develop education and career pathways.

"Staff are already taking up the innovation mantle, through our new BIG IDEAS innovation challenge. In February this year we saw the first batch of staff-led innovation projects take flight, and it will be exciting to see the changes that arise in this space."