HETI program enhances palliative care in Mid North Coast

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Healthcare services across the Mid North Coast have been enhanced with the recent award of Clinical Diplomas in Palliative Medicine to two local General Practitioner Registrars.

These advanced qualifications will allow Dr Kyle Links of Coffs Harbour and Dr Paul Lam of Woolgoolga to provide palliative care across a range of settings, including hospitals, community health, general practice and the patient’s home; and to work more effectively alongside other physicians including specialist palliative medicine physicians.

Dr Kyle and Dr Lam are the first two graduates of the Palliative Care pathway provided by the NSW Rural Generalist Medical Training Program - the first program of its kind in Australia to offer 12-month advanced skills training in palliative care to rural general practice registrars.

Developed by the Health Education and Training Institute (HETI), the education and training arm of NSW Health, in consultation with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the program is specifically designed to advance the expertise and skillsets of doctors wishing to pursue careers as rural GPs.

“With a rapidly aging population, the need for more rural GPs with advanced skills in palliative medicine has been recognised by NSW Health as an area of demand, so it’s with excitement that we celebrate these first two graduates,” said Adjunct Professor Annette Solman, Chief Executive HETI.

“Our Rural Generalist Medical Training Program offers a unique and expedient pathway for rural GPs to achieve advanced qualifications across a number of disciplines that are of particular need in rural and remote communities,” she said.

The program, first launched in 2012, currently has more than 100 GPs training for advanced qualifications in one of six advanced learning pathways: Anaesthetics, Obstetrics, Emergency Medicine, Mental Health, Paediatrics and Palliative Care.

“I’ve always been interested in palliative medicine, but being located in Coffs Harbour made advancing this area of expertise difficult,” said Dr Kyle Links, who was awarded a Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Clinical Diploma of Palliative Medicine in April 2018.

“The great thing about the Rural Generalist program is the flexibility of the program and the fact that it allowed me to do my advanced skills training at Coffs Harbour Health Campus. It’s been a fantastic experience,” he said.

Dr Dan Curley was Dr Links’ clinical supervisor and is Palliative Care Staff Specialist for the Mid North Coast Local Health District’s Coffs Clinical Network. He said the NSW Rural Generalist
Medical Training Program has a dual benefit in strengthening the Local Health District’s palliative care workforce, while also providing support in the primary health setting.

“This will result in improved Palliative Care services in regional and rural areas and provide additional support to local Palliative Care teams who may not have a specialist in their area.

“Being embedded within a specialist team gives these training doctors a higher level of skills and knowledge and greater understanding of the provision of Palliative Care services.

“As a specialty, Palliative Care is growing but we need to also ensure primary providers such as general practitioners are able to access more specialised training to support their local communities.

“An important aspect of the program for these training doctors is the ongoing relationship they have with a specialist who will continue to mentor them and provide guidance and consultation on various aspects of patient care,” said Dr Curley.

With more graduates every year and a growing awareness and interest in the program, Adjunct Professor Solman is proud of the role that HETI is playing in ensuring the delivery of high quality healthcare to NSW residents.

“Doctors Links and Lam are the first to graduate from the Palliative Care pathway,” she said.

“And, with another 30 trainees undertaking advanced skills training this year across all six disciplines, and over 130 trainees having commenced the NSW Rural Generalist Medical Training Program since it began, it has already proven itself a great addition to rural and regional health care delivery,” said Adjunct Professor Solman.

Palliative Care Staff Specialist Dr Dan Curley (centre) with Clinical Nurse Consultant Jacquie Page, GP Registrars Dr Kyle Links and Dr Paul Lam and Clinical Nurse Consultant Scott Handsaker.