North Coast Primary Health Network will be bringing its education program back in-house from July 2020 onwards. Clinical societies and nurse networks will continue to be supported, as will high quality, region-wide multidisciplinary workforce development.

Over the years, different models have been used to provide high-quality local education to primary health care professionals on the North Coast. Some models have grown organically through the ingenuity and commitment of local clinicians, such as those instrumental in setting up the Richmond Valley Clinical Society in 1984 and the Ballina Byron Clinical Society in 2014. Pharmaceutical companies regularly host and sponsor events locally. The majority of local education provided to local GPs, nurses and allied health professionals, however, has been funded federally.

Delivery agents have included GP training organisations, and federal and state bodies that visit locally on occasions, including RACGP, ACRRM and the NSW RDN. In addition, the Divisions of General Practice, North Coast Medicare Local and now North Coast Primary Health Network (NCPHN) have also had a strong focus on GP, nursing and allied health professional education across the North Coast.


The combination of the distancing requirements of COVID-19, the extension of Medicare to cover telehealth and continuing improvements in technology have created one of the major changes in primary care delivery in modern times. Seemingly, the changes have happened overnight, although preparations have been in train for some time, with the unexpected (in many, but not all quarters) appearance of COVID-19 simply jump-starting the process.

GPs, patients and the federal government have all shown enthusiasm for the conducting of phone and video appointments, when appropriate, and a spokesperson for Health Minister Greg Hunt says Canberra wants the treating of patients by online or mobile phone technology to be part of the “post-COVID-19 world”.

Local statistics gathered by the North Coast Primary Health Network (NCPHN) show more than 80 of 101 surveyed practices now offer phone or video appointments. While high, this is surpassed by the national GP uptake, with a RACGP survey of almost 1200 practices finding 99 per cent of them offering consultations via phone or video.

This suggests a “long-term future for telehealth”, Minister Hunt added.

Editor’s note: Dr Nicola Holmes is a GP in Coffs Harbour. She works at the Coff Harbour Medical Centre and worked in the past for 10 years at Coffs Harbour Headspace.

She has been involved in GP registrar training for over 10 years and teaches with the Black Dog Institute in the area of mental health training for doctors. \

She was a member of the Mid North Coast Clinical Council of the North Coast Primary Health Network but resigned recently in protest over recent changes to the NCPHN’s education program.

Most GPs in the NCPHN footprint were surprised and disappointed to find NCGPT has not had its contract renewed by the NCPHN to continue delivering education to medical, nursing and allied health staff in our footprint.

Unfortunately, this decision will come with loss of goodwill and talented staff from a highly effective medical education provider, and loss of trust in the process by medical practitioners in our local area. The ultimate fall out of this decision will be evidenced over the next 12 months.

meeting NCGPT

In a surprise move the North Coast Primary Health Network (NCPHN) announced in late April it was taking back direct control of education for North Coast primary health practitioners.

The NCPHN Clinical Councils were not consulted about the decision to bring education back in house and a number of local doctors expressed their surprise when the change was announced. Many have felt that North Coast General Practice Training (NCGPT) had been doing an excellent job to date and were unclear as to why the decision had been made.

Northern NSW Local Health District Chief Executive Wayne Jones and Richmond Police District Crime Manager Detective Chief Inspector Cameron Lindsay demonstrate appropriate social distancing in the age of COVID-1

On the day the NSW Government allowed the easing of restrictions on public gatherings, dining and outdoor activities, two of the key agencies involved with protecting the community from the spread of coronavirus joined forces to issue a sombre warning: “This is not over,” said NNSW CE Wayne Jones, agreeing with a journalist’s suggestion that locals are becoming complacent about the risks of transmission.

“You only need to go to the shops to see that,” Mr Jones said. Richmond Police District Crime Manager Detective Chief Inspector Cameron Lindsay added that on the previous day two people in downtown Lismore had been charged with breaching the distancing and travel rules.