HUNDREDS of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders and their families have being vaccinated against the flu and tested for COVID-19 at car park clinics in Frankston and Hastings.
Those attending the clinics are met by medical staff wearing masks and, in some cases, gowns bought online from food industry suppliers.
The clinics are run by First Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing, whose CEO Karinda Taylor says the peninsula needs a health service controlled by the Aboriginal community “if we are ever going to make headway on closing the health gap in the area”.
Thomastown-based First Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing was earlier this year hoping to obtain federal government finance for a comprehensive health service in Frankston and on the peninsula but the “funding round” was abandoned because of the COVID-19 emergency (“Aboriginal health ‘misses out’ on health ‘boost’’’ The News 10/12/19).
Health Minister Greg Hunt, whose Flinders electorate covers the peninsula, said the funding round was delayed after “consultations with key stakeholders” to allow them to “focus on preparations for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Ms Taylor said she was “not sure who the key stakeholders are that Hunt’s office has spoken to, however, as the only Aboriginal community-controlled health service offering primary and mental health service across Frankston and the peninsula catchment I can assure you we were not consulted”.
Ms Taylor said the annual $778,819 that Mr Hunt said would be maintained “has been the same amount for 10 years”.
“Our service massively expanded 18 months ago, from chronic disease co-ordination and transportation to delivering complex primary health services to address the significant unmet health needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across greater Melbourne,” she said.
“This is what the community asked for. This is an example of self-determination at a local level. However, the government appears to determine health need, not the community.”
“Let’s be really clear, the existing funding that Mr Hunt is referring to covers around one third of our organisation’s total expenditure for the Thomastown clinic alone, and he is aware of this.
“He is also well aware the Frankston clinic remains completely unfunded.”
Ms Taylor said the Medicare benefits schedule – which Mr Hunt said was available to First Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing – was not “designed to fully support Aboriginal health services”.
“MBS suits five-minute medicine which is demonstrated by super clinics on every second corner offering care than will never see our nation close the gap in Aboriginal health,” she said.
“Mr Hunt uses the term ‘as per usual practice’. We are in the middle of a pandemic and this is anything but usual.
“We have completely transformed our entire model of care to rapidly respond to COVID-19.
“As the only Aboriginal testing site in Victoria re still remain unfunded.”
Dr Peter Walsh said staff working for First Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing in Frankston were using tele health “simply because of staffing and funding shortages – while at Thomastown we are able to offer a swab clinic, flu vax clinic and face to face consultations if absolutely necessary”.
“Due to overwhelming demand we are now running outreach clinics at Hastings and in Frankston. We have been inundated with new patients.
“As you can imagine, the logistics of this are enormous and prior to COVID-19 we were already stretched beyond capacity. The team running the Hastings clinic will consist entirely of our executive team – simply because we don’t have any other staff.
“The majority of the people who attended [the car park clinics] were new patients to us, making the logistics of sign-up and coordination a huge task.
“This, combined with our rapid tradition to tele-health at the start of the pandemic and as the only Aboriginal controlled health service in Victoria testing for COVID19, we have been utterly swamped with new patients and requests for outreach clinics by community.”
Dr Walsh accused Mr Hunt of having “walked away from the health of the Aboriginal people in his own community during their time of greatest need”.
“There is so much money going into funding the pandemic response, I can’t understand why he wouldn’t’t want to fund this great work happening in his own electorate.”