Rural medical hub might fly

Blackall hospital reuse the subject of $750,000 feasibility study


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Flying high: The current Blackall Hospital building, which the $750,000 feasibility study is looking at reuse options for. Picture: Sally Cripps.

Flying high: The current Blackall Hospital building, which the $750,000 feasibility study is looking at reuse options for. Picture: Sally Cripps.

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The federal government has invested three-quarters of a million dollars in a feasibility study into redevelopment options for the Old Blackall Hospital that could see it become an Australian-first remote clinical training and education hub.

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The federal government has invested three-quarters of a million dollars for a feasibility study into redevelopment options for the Old Blackall Hospital that could see it become an Australian-first remote clinical training and education hub.

While the study, announced last week, has not yet begun, Blackall-Tambo mayor Andrew Martin has declared that with the joint interest of Central West Health, Central Queensland University and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, it's an idea that just might fly.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the study would analyse the needs of locals and what gaps exist in current service delivery, and Maranoa MP David Littleproud said it made sense to continue making use of existing infrastructure.

Construction is expected to start later this month on a new $17.9m hospital for Blackall but it won't be completed until 2021, meaning the 81-year-old structure will maintain the district's hospital service until then.

Related: Blackall's medical centre hangover

"Creating opportunities for medical students to study in Blackall and learn about rural health firsthand will provide locals in the bush with highly qualified, highly experienced medical staff in the future," Mr Hunt said. "CQUniversity will undertake the development of the feasibility study and explore what clinical areas the centre can excel in."

They could include emergency services, aged care, indigenous health, general practice, child and family health, social and emotional wellbeing, and dental services, according to Mr Littleproud.

He said having the backing of CQUniversity and the RFDS made the idea more likely to come to fruition, with future federal co-investment.

Read more: Charleville receives $25m for health training centre

His support for the project was based on the boost it would give to a region hit hard by drought, both by immediate and ongoing jobs, the likelihood of having more healthcare professionals and specialists on tap, and as a means of introducing more people to living and working in the bush.

"If you train in the bush you invariably stay," he said.

Trent Dean, the Royal Flying Doctor Service's head of clinical governance, agreed, saying his organisation wanted to play a role in returning people to the far west.

"If you train and do simulated activities there, you're more likely to fall in love with it and stay," he said.

The RFDS opened its Traeger Clinical Innovation and Learning Centre in Brisbane in February and has training facilities in other locations around Queensland but Mr Dean said the sky was the limit for the projected facility at Blackall.

He cited possible community use and even the potential to incorporate working with drones.

"Everything is possible at this stage. It's such a great facility - it has great bones we could work with."

Related: Blackall Hospital on govt sick list

Mr Dean said he was as confident as anyone could be that the proposal would go ahead, considering there were four committed agencies working together to make it happen.

"The success of getting the grant highlights the goodwill for it. A lot of consultation now needs to happen."

Cr Martin paid tribute to Senator Barry O'Sullivan for understanding his vision once he was shown the old hospital and nearby under-utilised airstrip, saying he had been instrumental in pushing for the $750,000 feasibility study.

"Since the day it was announced Blackall was getting a new hospital, I knew we would have to find a need for the old building - why doze it down," he said.

"There were lots of ideas - a museum, an adjunct to the pastoral college - and then we thought, why not train doctors?

"Barry took to the plan and said we should get doctors actually flying over country they might evacuate people from.

"We invented the term 'evacuative medicine' and talked to CQU," he said.

"They could branch out into all sorts of things from such a base, hospitality training, rangelands science, you name it.

"I feel confident about the plan's feasibility and the jobs it can create."

Suggestions have been made that CQUniversity could expand from having a school of health, medical and applied sciences to a faculty of rural medicine but no-one from the university was available for comment.

In a prepared statement, deputy vice chancellor Professor Fiona Coulson said the Commonwealth government's support provided an opportunity for the university to "utilise its expertise, particularly in relation to regional economic development and health education, for the benefit of the Blackall region".

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