New beginnings in the Far North

  • Dr Will Horwood says Weipa is a great place to live.
    Dr Will Horwood says Weipa is a great place to live.
  • Dr Will Horwood.
    Dr Will Horwood.
  • Dr Will Horwood says Weipa is a great place to live.
    Dr Will Horwood says Weipa is a great place to live.

If you want to know what regional general practitioner (GP) training opportunities mean for rural and remote communities, just look to Weipa. This small mining town in Far North Queensland has an expanding dialysis unit, a new Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) outreach program, and very soon will have a dedicated maternity service delivering babies in town for the first time in almost two decades. It’s a health movement that is changing lives, and it is largely driven by GP registrars.

Heavily involved in these exciting new developments is Dr Will Horwood. Inspired to pursue rural medicine by his parents’ work as GPs in Papua New Guinea, he arrived in Queensland in 2015 with his young family, completed his fellowship with James Cook University (JCU), and is now a medical educator and supervisor at Weipa Integrated Health Service.

Will says there has been a real clarity of purpose with the JCU GP Training Program.

‘The priority is addressing real needs and improving services to regional, rural and remote communities. For me, working in such a remote place, it's been nice to be part of this broader mission.’

Birth of a new era: the Weipa Maternity Project

In the past 12 months, the community has seen the development and approval of the Weipa Maternity Project. Funding from Queensland Health will increase the number of doctors in Weipa to enable birthing services in town and offer primary care services to surrounding areas. Will is currently involved in the preparation phase of the project and understands what dedicated maternity facilities will mean for the women of Weipa.

‘The impact of having these maternity services up here is going to be really profound for a lot of women and their families. It will mean they won’t have to leave town at 36 weeks of their pregnancy, where they’d be hundreds of kilometres away from their families and support networks.’

Hearing the need: the launch of ENT specialists

The Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Project, championed by JCU GP Registrar Dr Steve Johnston, was launched in late 2020 in response to the impact of ear disease across the region. The outreach clinics provide treatment and education to communities all through the Cape, to Cooktown and surrounds.

Will says they have seen kids with chronic ear infections develop hearing loss because they didn’t get the appropriate treatment.

‘This affects their educational outcomes, which means their whole life is impacted. We’re hopeful the ENT outreach program will make a really big difference to these kids, their families and the wider community here.’

Addressing the rise of chronic kidney disease

Will says kidney conditions are a major concern for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the problem is only going to get bigger without preventive and early-stage care.

Under the medical leadership of Dr Andrea Miller, Weipa’s Chronic Kidney Disease Prevention Program is now in its third year. The program was recently strengthened further with the addition of dialysis services.

‘This program is not only targeted at delaying, if not preventing, the need for dialysis, but also making the process easier for those who do have to start dialysis, as it will limit the need for patients to travel,’ Will says.

Hands-on training

With exciting health service developments and hands-on experience, Will is naturally a big advocate for the GP Training opportunities in Weipa.

‘Training here is valuable experience for any doctor but, as a GP, it gives you such a solid grounding in everything from primary care through to serious acute emergency medicine.

‘If you want to feel like you’re genuinely contributing to local health services, then Weipa is a great place to come. We honestly couldn’t do without our GP registrars.

‘There are a lot of good people here who make this a great place to live. It’s a beautiful part of the world and we love exploring. We’ve always felt so welcome in Weipa. We came here with one child and now we’ve had another three, and we’ve just really enjoyed it here.’

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