Wagga Wagga health precinct looks to revolutionise rural health care

Awarded $1 million by the state government, precinct collaborators take next steps to plan the integration of training, research and clinical care around the city’s two major hospitals as part of a 30-year vision for the region.

Christina Kingen

Awarded $1 million by the state government, precinct collaborators take next steps to plan the integration of training, research and clinical care around the city’s two major hospitals as part of a 30-year vision for the region.

After a late December visit by New South Wales Premier, Dominic Perrottet, to the area, State Member for Wagga Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr MP, said a health and knowledge precinct currently being developed for Wagga Wagga could become a first for regional NSW and revolutionise rural health care. The funding will help deliver more health services needed for the Riverina.

“In Sydney, they have what they call medical precincts… where the public hospitals and universities work together to do research and training,” Dr McGirr explained, citing the Randwick Health & Innovation Precinct as an example.

“There are none in regional NSW and we have, in Wagga Wagga, in the last few years been working on our own health precinct here. Wagga Wagga City Council have been great in leading this process.”

In its early stages of development, the precinct would bring together local health and education providers to train a workforce in the local region, for the local region.

Anchored around the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, its location is central to many local healthcare facilities such as the Calvary hospital, Riverina Cancer Care Centre, specialists, mental health services, private providers and the Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network. Along with UNSW, there has been collaboration with Charles Sturt University, Notre Dame Australia and TAFE.

“We train the doctors, the nurses and the allied health people we need for our region here – they don’t have to go to Sydney to train,” Dr McGirr said.

Aside from the training focus, the precinct would facilitate collaboration between local healthcare providers and build a research capacity in Wagga Wagga.

“It will finally shift the focus from the city to the regions and to rural areas for health provision so we’re not relaying on the city, and we can manage it on our own,” he added.

As one of UNSW’s flagship rural health precincts, planning is underway to deliver a new $16m Biomedical Science Centre in 2023, and medical students are now completing all 6 years of the UNSW Medicine & Health’s Medicine program in Wagga Wagga. The infrastructure investment will allow UNSW to recruit local students who will eventually practice in the region and to promote academic and research activities in the Riverina.

The expansion of Wagga Wagga’s rural medical school forms part of the Federal Government’s $95.4 million Murray-Darling Rural Schools Network to help universities establish medical teaching in the Murray- Darling region over the next 10 years.

“We want to play a critical role in supplying the region’s future doctors and specialists,” said Professor Tara Mackenzie, Associate Dean & Head of Rural Clinical Campuses who is based in Wagga Wagga.

“UNSW’s presence in the Riverina and other regional areas of New South Wales aims to address the shortage of clinicians in these areas. If rural students can be trained locally, there is a greater likelihood they will remain and practice in their local communities.  The new Biomedical Centre will allow students to stay close to family and friends and remove the financial barrier of needing to relocate to Sydney to obtain a medical degree,” she said.