7 May 2021
30 years of delivering women’s health services in Queensland
Queensland Health’s Mobile Women’s Health Service is celebrating 30 years of delivering cervical screening and health checks to women living in the state’s rural and remote communities.
Since humble beginnings at its first base locations at Roma and Mount Isa in 1991, the Mobile Women’s Health Service has expanded and now visits a total of 151 communities from base locations across the state, consulting with more than 5,000 women each year.
The service was established to encourage women in rural and remote communities to be proactive about their health and wellbeing, as well as provide increased access to female cervical screening providers.
A total of 12 specially trained registered nurses provide the free and confidential service for women in the hospital and health services of Cairns and Hinterland, Central Queensland, Central West, Darling Downs, Mackay, North West, South West, Torres and Cape, Townsville and Wide Bay.
The service addresses a range of topics related specifically to women’s health and wellbeing, including cervical screening, STIs, contraception, nutrition, menopause and MHT information, continence, bone health, with clients ranging across all age groups.
Sharon Young from the South West Hospital and Health Service is one of those 12 specially trained registered nurses providing the free and confidential service for women across the state.
Based at Charleville, she has been working with the Mobile Women’s Health Service in the South West since July 2020 and has been a sexual health nurse since 2010.
With the South West HHS region being the second largest health service in Queensland by land area, she delivers rural and remote women’s health services across a 319,800 square kilometre area of the state. The job involves a lot of driving!
“I love the variety of the 13 different clinics I work in across the district and I love meeting community members from all different walks of life,’’ Ms Young said.
“As I have predominantly lived in urban areas, I enjoy listening to and learning from my clients about their lifestyles on the land.
“My work colleagues across the South West and the management team in Charleville have been very supportive and welcoming.
“It’s the diversity of my clinics and the variation of the services I provide that keeps my role exciting and dynamic.
“I was particularly grateful to be able to contribute to the recent Mobile Women’s Health Service Strategic Framework.
“This was developed to ensure women (and men) living in regional, rural and remote Queensland have access to a high standard of clinical care in a service which supports all aspects of health and wellbeing in a safe space.
“My passion is talking to, educating, and informing young people so when they are ready, they have the knowledge and skills to engage in healthy, consensual, safe relationships.
“As part of this process, I am particularly appreciative of my collaborative relationship with the South West HHS school-based youth health nurses as, without their support, this aspect of my role would not be possible.’’
Queensland Health’s Preventive Health Branch Executive Director, Mark West, said Mobile Women’s Health Service nurses addressed a range of topics related specifically to women’s health and wellbeing.
These included cervical screening, STIs, contraception and family planning, gynaecological issues, psychosocial issues, nutrition, smoking and preventive health, with clients ranging across all age groups.
“It’s important to offer women in these communities the opportunity to talk to a female practitioner about their health and wellbeing,” Mr West said.
“Some smaller communities have no GP or limited access to a female GP. At times, women may prefer a female practitioner for a variety of personal or cultural reasons.
“This service is especially important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who often live in the state’s most remote locations, but also are more likely to develop chronic disease compared to non-Indigenous Queenslanders,” he said.
Mr West said prevention is better than cure, and the Mobile Women’s Health Service is one way to help encourage women to be proactive about their health needs.
“Especially because of the remoteness of some areas, there is a focus on providing information to women to help them avoid ill health through good nutrition, exercise, quitting smoking and keeping their cervical screening up to date,” he said.
“They also actively refer clients on a needs basis to a variety of agencies from GPs, Allied Health services, BreastScreen Queensland, gynaecological outpatient services, and community agencies as needed.
“Since the Mobile Women’s Health Service and the Queensland Cervical Screening Program was initiated in 1991, the increased choice of provider has seen more Queensland women having cervical screening tests, and this has reduced the number of women developing cervical cancer.”
Between 2016 and 2020, the service collected more than 21,000 Pap Smear/Cervical Screening Tests state-wide, and nearly 100,000 tests since 2003.
“However, there is still a gap between indigenous women and non-indigenous women, and there is evidence that Indigenous women are generally under screened,’’ Mr West said.
“The Australian Institute of Welfare’s Cervical Screening in Australia in 2019 Report states that the incidence of cervical cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is more than two times that of non-indigenous women.
“One of our aims is to help close this gap by offering services to rural and remote communities.”
Mr West said there were some challenges associated with providing a health service to rural and remote regions of Queensland.
“It’s a challenge to service a state as large and decentralised as Queensland, and there’s also the added challenge of planning around wet seasons in the north of the state as many roads can get off due to flooding,” he said.
“Our nurses drive thousands of kilometres each year servicing their region, tackling remote dirt roads or flying into the state’s most remote locations, and some of them leave their families for a week or two at a time due to the long distances involved.
“The nurses set up in the most appropriate venue in the town – which could range from a room in a country hospital, a community centre or an aged care facility.”
For more information on the Mobile Women’s Health Service and upcoming locations, visit our website.