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Helping patients navigate through health

7 June 2019

For patients facing multiple chronic illnesses and hospitalisations, as well as travel to major hospitals away from their communities, the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service’s Nurse Navigator program is a heaven send.

The health service’s nine Nurse Navigators and two Indigenous Nurse Navigator Support Officers provide a single point of contact and support for some of the region’s most vulnerable and complex patients.

Torres and Cape HHS Nurse Navigator Nurse Unit Manager Rachel Sargeant the Nurse Navigator roles were taken by experienced nurses with expert clinical knowledge and deep understanding of the health system and how it operated.

They work with patients who have chronic and complex care needs, helping them to navigate to and from their referring general practitioner and/or other primary care provider, as well as to major hospitals outside the region.

Ms Sargeant said the health service’s Nurse Navigator program currently had 1500 clients on its books.

“Our job is to smooth a patient’s journey right through the health system,’’ she said.

“In isolated areas like ours, patients and clients often face challenges in knowing which service or provider to call for assistance or have concerns about travelling long distances for treatment.

“These are barriers that often frustrate patients struggling with multiple illnesses and hospitalisation.

“In the Torres and Cape region, there is also the need to ensure culturally safe service provision for our diverse communities.

“Our role as Nurse Navigators is to work with our patients to get them through the system as easily as possible.

“We don’t just work within the hospital system either – we link in closely with primary health and community services.’’

Ms Sargeant said the Torres and Cape HHS had two Nurse Navigators based on Thursday Island, one each at Weipa and Cooktown and five in Cairns.

“Around 80 per cent of our clients travel to and from Cairns to access specialist and more complex services that might not be available locally, so we have a strong presence there to smooth their journey,’’ she said.

Ms Sargeant said the Torres and Cape HHS also was the only health service in Queensland that supplemented the Nurse Navigator program with the appointment of Indigenous Nurse Navigator Support Officers.

“Around 96 per cent of our clients are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, so it’s vital we provide a culturally appropriate journey through the health system for them,’’ she said.

She said the health service had one Indigenous Nurse Navigator Support Officer on Thursday Island and on in Cairns.

Thursday Island-based Nurse Navigator Support Officer Esha Nona said she had been in her role since March 2018 and had taken up the position because she wanted to help her people in the Torres Strait.

“The health system can be complex and the job of the Nurse Navigators is to help patients navigate their way through it,’’ Ms Nona said.

“My job is to work with the Navigators to ensure the cultural needs of Torres Strait Islander people are met and to help the Navigators understand how Indigenous people think and act, so we can smooth their path through the health system, facilitate their clinical appointments and coordinate their care.’’

Cairns-based Nurse Navigator Support Officer Eileen Lampton said her role was to ensure a culturally safe service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“We are there to help overcome cultural barriers and ensure the health journey is the best it can possibly be for our clients and patients,’’ she said.

Weipa-based Nurse Navigator Peter Ross said his role supported more patients to navigate the health system and attend their medical appointments.

“Over the past two years, I’ve worked as a Nurse Navigator in Weipa with regular travel across Aurukun, Mapoon and Napranum to help patients access the health services they need,” Mr Ross said.

“Just knowing where to go for treatment can be daunting for people, especially for older patients or those who haven’t been to a bigger city like Cairns before and this is where our Nurse Navigators play a big role.

“The little things we do every day as Nurse Navigators in the Torres Strait Islands, Northern Peninsula Area and Cape York can make a real difference, so our patients don’t have to go it alone and are able to make health appointments they might not otherwise be able to.

“I’m based on the Cape and supported by a great team in Cairns who look after our patients once they reach town – it’s a whole team effort and we take great pride in looking after each and every patient through their unique health journey.”

A decade ago, Peter and his family swapped the cold winters of Melbourne for the warmth of Weipa and it’s a move they’ve never regretted.

“We love Weipa, our eldest children work locally and our youngest loves getting out and about fishing, camping and swimming,” he said.

“Being a Nurse Navigator is a fantastic job and provides much satisfaction, it’s also great way to get experience in various areas as you’re not specific to one stream of nursing and get to help patients in many different ways.”

“I get enormous satisfaction from being able to provide this service to patients right across the Western Cape.’’

Queensland Health has added 400 nurse navigators to the state’s public hospital and health services over the past four years, including the nine in the Torres and Cape HHS.

PHOTO CAPTION: Indigenous Nurse Navigator Support Officer Eileen Lampton – left – with Torres and Cape HHS Nurse
Navigators Rachel Sargeant and Peter Ross during a recent visit to Aurukun.

Last updated: 19 June 2019