Statement by the RAHC Board in relation to the AIHW Report “Northern Territory Outreach Hearing Health Program: July 2012 to December 2017”

The Board and Management of Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC) has noted a statement on page 7 in the report “Northern Territory Outreach Hearing Health Program: July 2012 to December 2017” by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The statement concludes that audiology services and service recipients decreased between 2015 and 2017, and that this decrease is due to shortages of audiology specialists which are provided through RAHC. In a subsequent media article, the journalist cited the AIHW report, specifically mentioning RAHC and a Federal Department of Health spokesman who said funding committed to RAHC will increase by $500,000 over the period 2015-2016 and 2021-2022.

The Board and Management of RAHC would like to provide clarification in relation to the above:

  • Following contact between RAHC and the Department of Health, the journalist has agreed to correct the statement regarding funding to “over the period 2015-16 to 2021-22”.
  • There is no evidence presented in the AIHW report to support the statement that “The drop in numbers between 2015 and 2017 can largely be explained by a shortage of audiologists available through the Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC), who supply specialist staff to provide services in remote communities.” RAHC has contacted the AIHW to request the evidence to support the statement, as contrary to the report there were a greater number of RAHC audiology placements in 2016 and 2017 over those in 2015. This information is communicated to the Department of Health on an annual basis
  • Since its inception in 2008, RAHC’s remit has been to place urban-based health professionals into remote Indigenous communities in the NT. RAHC funding over the period in question covers a minimum of six health professional crafts – doctors, nurses, dentists, dental assistants, dental therapists and  audiologists - but not, as the article infers, exclusively audiologists. It should be noted that audiologists were not included in the RAHC contract until 2012. RAHC is not the only provider of audiologists into health services working across the NT. Those health services recruit their own audiologists, and also use a raft of recruitment agencies and locum services to fill not just audiologists, but other clinical craft groups.
  • RAHC provides health professionals in accordance with requests from service providers across the Northern Territory, rather than according to any health professional craft group target set by any stakeholders.  This is to ensure that the local health service request the clinical staff they need.  This is critical to ensure that the health service is community controlled, and demand driven.

RAHC recognises that the Audiology craft group is a challenge. The average length of placement for all health professional craft groups, over the past decade, has been 3.6 weeks. The average length of placement for audiologists is 1.6 weeks. The RAHC contact provides for a minimum of 3 weeks on placement regardless of health professional craft group. Audiologists, on average, prefer a two-week placement, so as not to detract from their audiology practice at home, and therefore are difficult to place into a community within the terms of the contract.

Efforts to increase the pool of urban-based audiologists available through RAHC are ongoing. Activities undertaken include attending relevant audiology conferences to promote placement opportunities, sharing stories from audiologists who have been on placement with RAHC in health publications and promoting RAHC audiology eLearning modules through the relevant professional bodies.

To date, RAHC has arranged 6,180 health professional placements in the Territory over that time. This equates to more than 540 years of service in the Territory. Cost per placement has decreased year-on-year allowing more health professional placements to be arranged according to the clinical needs identified by service providers.

The Board and Management of RAHC looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with all stakeholders in Canberra and the NT to help close the gap in Indigenous health outcomes, including in Ear Health.

Friday, 25 October 2019