It is humbling and quite an honour to report on Brisbane North PHN’s activity for the 2019/20 year as the organisation’s Chief Executive Officer.
I first joined the PHN as Deputy CEO in 2017 and found myself in awe of the sheer breadth of work undertaken across so many program areas.
I respectfully offer my thanks and give kudos to my predecessor, Dr Abbe Anderson, for the years she led this organisation, including the majority of this reporting period.
It would be an understatement to say I took on my new role during tumultuous times for the healthcare sector and the world generally.
Coronavirus has forced us all to rethink the way we do everything and it has been no different for the team at Brisbane North. The way we do business has fundamentally changed and new COVIDSafe protocols govern all aspects of our work.
To their credit, our managers and other staff responded rapidly and admirably to the dramatically changed landscape in which we found ourselves.
We quickly ensured that our information systems supported all staff working safely and securely from home, ensuring business continuity.
These arrangements remain in place, even though we have all largely returned to the office, in case circumstances change for the worse again.
Despite the disruption, I am proud of the significant inroads made on key projects throughout the year, particularly across the mental health and aged care programs and in primary care and hospital integration.
Many new services have commenced as we continue to implement Planning for Wellbeing, our joint regional plan with Metro North Hospital and Health Service (HHS) covering mental health, suicide prevention and alcohol and other drugs.
Among these, the PHN funded three new integrated mental health service hubs from 1 July 2019 to support people with severe mental illness.
We have also refocused the Brisbane MIND program to provide short-term psychological therapies to underserviced population groups who have moderate mental illness and are experiencing financial hardship.
For parents needing perinatal mental health support, we published best practice guidelines for GPs through Brisbane North HealthPathways, providing advice, assessment and service referral information online.
We have also supported the rollout of GP Smart Referrals to enable faster, streamlined management of referrals and less double handling of referrals across the Metro North HHS.
Our suicide prevention campaigns gained traction over the past year. These have included the ‘Talking Heals’ and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-focused ‘Yarns Heal’ campaigns supporting LGBTIQ+ people in our region, and the ‘Reasons to Stay’ campaign–all of which are funded through the National Suicide Prevention Trial.
We also ran two very successful major events before the lockdowns prevented social gatherings. These included our Metro North Health Forum in October 2019 and the Annual Brisbane North Aged Care Forum one month prior, which focused on challenging ageism. Both saw a high turnout from across the health and aged care sectors.
The next time we hosted a forum with the aged care sector it was via webinar, in partnership with Leading Aged Services Australia, and dominated by discussions about COVID-19.
No doubt the pandemic and virtual engagement will continue to shape the way we do business well into next year, but I am confident we are now well adapted to such a scenario.
Thank you for your support and stay safe.
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly tested Brisbane North PHN, as it did all Primary Health Networks and healthcare organisations around the country. Yet I could not be prouder of what we achieved in the face of this challenge.
The moment we became aware of the emerging threat posed by the novel coronavirus, the PHN implemented a crisis response to ensure we could offer all possible support to frontline primary healthcare across our region.
This included the rapid distribution of personal protective equipment from the national stockpile to GPs, pharmacists and Community Controlled Health Services, and facilitating the early establishment of four GP respiratory clinics.
Keeping healthcare providers updated on this rapidly evolving situation was a priority for us, so early on we began emailing out daily updates and set up a new landing page on our website as a single ‘source of truth’ on the status of the local and national COVID-19 response.
We also established a suite of COVID-19 HealthPathways to keep frontline GPs abreast of the emerging evidence and information and these were then adopted as a statewide resource for GPs.
Following a recommendation of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, our PHN coordinated an operation, at very short notice, to vaccinate all residential aged care staff and residents across our region against influenza. While all this was happening, we also had to consider the safety of our staff and by mid-March working-from-home arrangements were in full swing.
It was surreal to see our offices vacated at short notice, knowing that I had been thanking the Federal Member for Brisbane, the Hon Trevor Evans MP, for joining me at the official opening of our new Lutwyche premises in October 2019, barely six months prior.
Shortly afterward, in November last year, we held our AGM in these offices and welcomed fellow GP and clinical teacher and researcher Dr Jenny Schafer to our Board of Directors.
Sadly, in March, I had the dubious honour of announcing the planned departure of our long-serving, highly regarded and much-loved CEO Dr Abbe Anderson. Abbe had led our successful transition to a Medicare Local in 2011 and to a PHN in 2015.
Over 14 years at the helm of our organisation, she has achieved outstanding outcomes for our community. We farewelled Abbe as PHN CEO on the 3 July 2020. We are very much in her debt.
Following a robust external recruitment process, we selected our Deputy CEO Libby Dunstan, from a list of high calibre candidates, to become our new CEO, ensuring a seamless and stable transition. Since her appointment on the 6 July 2020, Libby has embraced this role. Our staff, the board and our stakeholders have welcomed her appointment.
This past year has also seen a continued commitment to collaboration between the PHN and Metro North Hospital and Health Service, including to our joint Health Alliance.
The Health Alliance provides an important means to tackle local health and healthcare problems that transcend the mandate of any one organisation or part of the health sector, and that cannot be fixed by existing approaches.
PHN and Metro North HHS board members met in September 2019 to discuss the interface between primary and secondary care, further strengthening the partnership between our two organisations.
That same month, I joined with other Queensland PHNs to sign a historic Memorandum of Understanding with the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) in Canberra at the National PHN Conference.
I firmly believe Primary Health Networks are well positioned to support Aboriginal Community Controlled Healthcare Organisations in their mission to improve health outcomes for Australia’s First Nations peoples.
From the Board’s perspective, it is also a pleasure to witness concrete outcomes that can be attributed, at least in part, to the PHN’s adoption of a Reconciliation Action Plan at the close of the previous financial year.
Despite the challenges ahead of us, the past year’s achievements leave me optimistic about what can be accomplished across the healthcare sector and with our community through an ongoing commitment to collaboration.
Dr Anita Green