Partnering together in the commitment to quality health

It is often said that a great idea can come from a good conversation.

For Healthscope's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael Coglin such a conversation took place in late July 2013, with staff who proposed an idea to provide clinical assistance to indigenous communities in Far North Queensland.

As with any idea the best way to action is to seek out like-minded people and before long the necessary arrangements were made for Dr Coglin to meet with Noel Pearson and Duncan Murray from the Cape York Group.

With a reputation that proceeds their organisation, the Cape York Group have had considerable success in reforming the welfare and education sectors in the Cape and were interested in implementing a similar healthcare program for some Australians identified as most at risk .

What started as an initial conversation many months before had set in motion an agreement for Healthscope to undertake its largest clinical assistance program in remote Australia.

As one of the largest private healthcare providers in Australia, with a presence in each state and territory, Healthscope's clinical footprint is focused around inner city and suburban locations, with each hospital having its own unique demographic and case mix.

Acknowledging that none of Healthscope's 46 hospitals would share, fully, the unique healthcare issues faced in Cape York, Dr Coglin agrees that there was a learning opportunity to understand how best to utilise Healthscope's wide-ranging clinical expertise.

"We certainly did not enter into our partnership blindly, we were fully aware of the complex healthcare issues facing the Cape York population, for Noel, Duncan, myself and our teams it was developing the best possible strategy to accommodate a diverse range of clinical needs," said Dr Coglin.

The objectives of the partnership were met and formalised, with the development of a structure that would provide a range of clinical healthcare services to the Cape York community as well as education and government liaison assistance.

Partnership in place, Dr Coglin and the Cape York Group mobilised their respective teams to implement the first component, focused on youth healthcare.

Located 20 kilometers south of Cairns is Djarragun College in Gordonvale, a dedicated Prep to Year 12 co-educational boarding school for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Many of the college's 250 students suffer from cognitive and other learning disabilities and have limited access to clinical intervention by way of medical specialists.

In his role as Chairman of Djarragun College, Noel Pearson identified an opportunity for the Healthscope team to assist.

Led by Psychologist Dr Tamara May from The Victoria Clinic, her team of eight clinical psychologists and two speech pathologists flew to Gordonvale in October 2015 to undertake a two week clinical assessment of over 90 children.

Far removed from their city based hospitals with all required pathology tools, devices and clinical facilities, Dr May and her team underwent a vast, but heavily rewarding learning curve.

"Given the cultural diversity of the students, who speak many different indigenous languages, culturally fair tests were selected for the assessments to limit language requirements and minimise over-identification of students and prevent institutional racism," explains Dr May.


The outcomes were varied with a number of students requiring special assistance at school identified.

Over a two week period we conducted speech and language assessments as well as social-emotional, cognitive and adaptive behavior assessments for the 95 of the most at risk students,as explains Dr May.

Post clinical testing the Healthscope team's objective was to identify the students that would be eligible for the Queensland Government's Educational Assistance Program that would provide additional resources to support their learning goals.

From the students that we diagnosed with special needs we were able to access funding for over half, this is certainly life changing for the students,as explained Dr May.

On completion of the first program the Healthscope clinicians identified a number of other opportunities to further support the youth in the Cape, most specifically with the Cape York Girl Academy.

Recognising that every girl has the right to a good education, the Cape York Girl Academy is Australia's first boarding school designed for young mothers and their babies, allowing them to live and learn together whilst being supported staff, their family and friends.

The Girl Academy believes that with education girls can change their world and the world around them.

In February 2016, Dr May and her clinical team undertook the trip back up north to carry out psychological and languages assessments for the Girl Academy students.

Dr May explains that the objective of the week long trip was to conduct similar assessments to those undertaken at Djarragun College, however the focus was on a group of secondary school girls who had recently returned to school after having a baby.

Recognising that many of these girls were at risk of not returning to school post the birth of their children, the Girl Academy provides the opportunity for them to be both mother and student concurrently,as explains Dr May.

We had the great opportunity of being able to work with the students, and their gorgeous children, to identify any underlying clinical issues that they may have and what additional support they might need.

Throughout the teams week at the Girl Academy that completed 14 comprehensive assessments and clinical treatment plans for each student.

Working with the teachers from the Girl Academy we were able to develop individual plans that would help the students to further their education based on their needs,as explained Dr May.

The Girl Academy is a much needed resource in the Cape who are doing amazing work.

Our team were delighted to be able to provide clinical assistance.

A number of other key projects are planned in the upcoming future as part of the partnership between Healthscope and The Cape York Project.