Access to Seymour health services improving, study finds

Seymour resident having her blood pressure checked by a University of Melbourne staff member in the Crossroads clinic
Since the original study in Seymour was conducted in 2001-2003, the use of services has increased, with 94 per cent of participants surveyed in 2016-2018 visiting a GP in the past year. Image: supplied.

More Seymour residents are visiting their local GP and smoking rates have declined in the past 15 years, according to the latest Crossroads study.

Led by the University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health, Crossroads is one of most detailed health projects undertaken in rural Australia, designed to understand the prevalence of chronic health conditions and healthcare use in the Goulburn Valley.

Around 500 households were randomly selected in Seymour to take part in the study. Of these, just under 300 households participated with 431 adults completing a detailed health questionnaire.

Since the original study in Seymour was conducted in 2001-2003, the use of services has increased, with 94 per cent of participants surveyed in 2016-2018 visiting a GP in the past year. A high level of confidence in GPs was also found, with 77 per cent of participants reporting their GP was “excellent” or “very good”.

There has been an increase in most regular health screenings such as blood pressure, cholesterol, prostate, diabetes and skin checks. Rates of smoking have declined to 22 per cent but remain higher than the state average of 14 per cent.

University of Melbourne rural health expert Lisa Bourke said the ultimate aim of the project is to see health services not only improved, but better tailored to what the local community needs and wants.

“By understanding more about community needs and the barriers to care, we can help local providers identify gaps, make strategic decisions for their health services and build cases for funding,” Professor Bourke said.

Although there have been positive gains since the original study, rates of chronic and long-term conditions have increased.

The number of participants in the overweight or obese range was higher than the state average and had increased since 2001-2003. Mental health was also identified as a key issue, with 29 per cent of participants reporting they have experienced depression.

Researchers identified three focus areas for improvement including increased access to mental health services, a whole-of-community approach to healthy lifestyles and equitable access to health care for people who are marginalised due to low income, disability or cultural barriers.

University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health Research Fellow Kristen Glenister said tailored solutions are required to address these issues.

“There are exciting opportunities to build upon the strong community connections and high levels of satisfaction with local health service providers,” Dr Glenister said. “This includes boosting GP numbers, expanding current strategies to promote healthy living and increasing access, inclusion and participation for all residents.”

Seymour Health chief executive officer Chris McDonnell said they are committed to using these latest findings to improve their response to chronic health conditions.

“Seymour Health has actively taken information from the Crossroads study in planning a healthy Seymour. We are responding to issues around chronic health conditions, with a strong focus on developing locally based mental health services,” Mr McDonnell said.

The Crossroads project is delivered in partnership with local health services and local governments with support from the National Health and Medical Research Council. Findings for Shepparton and Mooroopna were released earlier this year.

The research team extend their sincere thanks to all of the participants who made this study possible – giving up their time and sharing vital information to improve local health services and drive evidence-based decision making.

Seymour residents are invited to attend a community feedback session about the key findings on Wednesday, 6 November at 2.30pm being held at the Seymour Health Cancer/Dialysis Unit, Bretonneux Street Seymour VIC 3660.