Strengthening care for children

A pioneer program in the Wimmera Southern Mallee sets the benchmark for the future of regional healthcare in Victoria 

Even before COVID-19 and telehealth, a dedicated team in Victoria’s Wimmera Southern Mallee put forward a plan to give children better access to critical health services.

The plan saw the establishment of the Strengthening Care for Children in the Wimmera Southern Mallee (SC4C@WSM) two-year pilot program which was launched in March 2020. The program is the brainchild of By Five Wimmera Southern Mallee Innovation and Equity Hub (By Five)— a partnership between Wimmera Development Association, Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnership, Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute with support from the Victorian Government’s Regional Digital Fund.

Leveraging a telehealth platform and centred on partnering with family clinicians, SC4C@WSM works with the local professional community to strengthen their trusted relationships with their patients by extending their resources.

It encourages families to take advantage of world-class medical services available in institutions like the RCH to improve outcomes for general medical, maternal child health and allied health services.

Young boy talking to his doctors, one in person and one on a computer screenTex, a Wimmera local, has impaired hearing and behavioural and sensory issues that require ongoing specialist consultations. As a participant in SC4C@WSM, Tex and his family no longer need to travel to Melbourne for appointments. Instead, they drive 20 minutes to see Dr Franklin Butuyuyu at Wheatfields Family Medical Centre and connect with paediatrician Dr Billy Garvey from the Royal Children's Hospital via telehealth.

“What used to be two days out of our schedule is now only an hour. I can keep working and Tex misses less school,” commented Tex’s mother, Kazz.

“We’re so lucky to be a part of this process, all in a room together – even if Dr Billy is on the screen – realising a plan for Tex. We are all part of the decision-making. We wouldn’t get that anywhere else,” she added.

Dr Franklin Butuyuyu, Tex’s doctor, has developed a special bond with his community after moving to the area from London some 13 years ago.

“The co-consultation model of the Wimmera’s SC4C@WSM is particularly beneficial. It has significantly reduced wait times for my patients to see specialists,” he remarked.

“I believe that SC4C@WSM has set the benchmark and will positively inspire other regions around the state to introduce similar programs,” he added.

“For so many vulnerable children in the Wimmera community, SC4C@WSM has been a lifeline. Supporting our local professionals to extend their resources to give local families the care they need is the ultimate goal of our work,” said SC4C@WSM Program Director, Cara Miller.

“In our first year, in addition to providing more than 200 co-consultation opportunities for children to access broader medical services without needing to leave the comfort of their GP’s office, Maternal Child Health or Allied Health setting or even their educational setting, the program has empowered local doctors, nurses, therapists and service providers to build greater connections with their regional colleagues and expand their knowledge and scope through inter-relational practice,” she added.

By Five and SC4C@WSM also run regular sessions to help local families and professionals increase their understanding of health issues, like an online seminar that shared strategies for parenting during the pandemic – an initiative that reached more than 4,000 people in 2021.

For more information about digital projects across the state visit the Regional Digital Fund.