Health Assembly to be up-and-running in October, says govt

The new group tasked with planning for local health improvement and helping to appoint the Latrobe Valley Health Advocate is expected to be up and running by October, the State Government has revealed.

The establishment of the Latrobe Health Assembly is part of the State Government’s response to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry.

To achieve this, the government is setting up an initial, time-limited group known as the Latrobe Health Taskforce, which will lay the groundwork for the assembly and support the establishment of the Latrobe Valley as the country’s first health zone.

“I am delighted to announce Professor John Catford has been appointed as the Chair of the Latrobe Health Taskforce, which will play a critical role in the establishment of the Latrobe Health Assembly,” Health Minister Jill Hennessy said.

Professor Catford will then become the inaugural chair of the Latrobe Health Assembly.

He served on the Board of Inquiry and was involved in the formulation of the health improvement recommendations.

“Professor Catford is renowned for his experience and expertise in public health, academia and health services both here in Australia and on the world-stage, making him well-placed to work alongside the community and build a healthier, stronger Latrobe Valley,” Ms Hennessy said.

The independent taskforce will be made up of representatives from local community, business, pharmacy, a local community service organisation, Latrobe City Council, Latrobe Regional Hospital, Latrobe Community Health Service and Gippsland Primary Health Network.

It will lead an expression of interest process to identify potential members of the assembly and engage with the community.

The government said the health advocate would be appointed once the roles and responsibilities of the Latrobe Health Assembly were established.

It is unclear exactly how long this will take.

Latrobe Regional Hospital board chair Kellie O’Callaghan said the appointment of the Health Advocate should be a priority.

“There is very clear expectation on the part of the community that the advocate be appointed as soon as possible,” Ms O’Callaghan said.

She welcomed the appointment of Professor Catford as the taskforce chair.

“With his wealth of experience, the guidance he provided during the inquiry and his genuine commitment to the Latrobe Valley community, Professor Catford is the ideal person to be the independent chair of the taskforce,” she said.

The government last week tabled the implementation plan for its response to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, which sets out timeframes and delegates responsibility to various departments.

It includes the establishment of five permanent air monitoring stations across the Latrobe Valley by 2018, with a smoke sensor sub-network in the region’s smaller townships. There is currently a permanent station at Traralgon and temporary air quality monitoring sites in Morwell, Moe and Churchill.

As part of health improvements, there will be a Chronic Disease Improvement Forum and a Latrobe Valley Community Mental Health Forum set up by December this year to report to and assist the Latrobe Health Assembly.

By 30 June 2017, an independent Latrobe Valley Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner will be established to monitor mine rehabilitation.

Mine rehab bonds will be increased.

Latrobe City chief executive Gary Van Driel said the implementation plan collated the inquiry’s recommendations and affirmations into a single point for reference.

“It drives the various recommendations into different departments and makes the accountable departments very obvious,” Mr Van Driel said.

Gippsland Primary Health Network board chair Nola Maxfield said the organisation would play a key role in the Latrobe Health Taskforce.

“We know from our health planning work that alcohol and other drugs are key issues for Gippsland,” Dr Maxfield said.

“We will be putting resources into these areas so that extra support is available and coordinated for those who were affected by the mine fire.”