Originally written by PHOEBE STEWART
WDHS program goes Australia-wide
A HEALTH initiative developed by the Western District Health Service is set to become a national program for Australian farming families. o
The Department of Health and Ageing has granted the WDHS’ Sustainable Farm Families (SFF) program $620,000 over the next two and half years to trial the program in rural and remote parts of the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia.
To date the program had been delivered in rural areas in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, and WDHS chief executive, Jim Fletcher, was pleased that SFF would be extended to a more national level.
He said the grant was a glowing endorsement of the success of the program, which had been under the control of the WDHS Community Service Division since its inception three years ago.
“The adoption of the program nationally is a great boost for WDHS, all the partners and a great tribute to the expertise of all staff involved,” Mr Fletcher said.
WDHS Community Services director, Sue Brumby, WDHS Men’s Health worker, Stu Willder, and La Trobe and RMIT university researchers, Dr John Martin and Professor Bruce Wilson, have worked on the project for the past three years.
During that time, the team has studied the health of a wide range of farming families to help farmers identify areas where they could improve their health and safety.
f=UniversUltBold s=10 Program’s genesis| o
Ms Brumby said the genesis of the program was based on the fact that farmers were ageing, working harder, and experiencing death, injury and suicide at a higher level than the Australian population, and were increasingly relying on extra labour from their family members to cope.
To get the program off the ground, Ms Brumby said SFF had worked hard to foster collaboration and partnerships with farmers, families, community, university and research, health services, primary industry and government.
The initial program was funded by the Rural Industries Research Development Industry Corporation for the broadacre industry, yet funding soon flowed in from several other Government departments and primary industry bodies to widen the program to dairy, sugar and cotton farming families.
The project also recently included a ‘train the trainer’ module involving health workers from Colac, Skipton-Beaufort, East Grampians, Yarrawonga, Bendigo and Rutherglen services.
“Health is now being recognised by farming families, communities and their organisations as an important resource to invest substantial individual time and industry funding in,” Ms Brumby said.
Ms Brumby said there were now more than 350 farm families taking part in the project across 20 sites. Research results from the project had shown notable improvements in indicators such as cholesterol, body mass index and waist measurements.
She said participant knowledge had increased and SFF had seen farmers place greater importance on health, wellbeing and safety in the farm business.
All participating farming families also indicated that they would recommend the program to other farmers.
“Part of the success of SFF is the innovative way it addresses farming family health and well-being that makes sense to both families and farming industries,” she said.
“SFF addresses the health of the human resource in the ‘triple bottom line’ critical to the farming business, the sector’s prosperity and the long-term future of rural communities.
“The role of family in farming is the most important investment of the farming business, but has been largely overlooked (until now).”
Mr Fletcher said SFF was unique because it involved both health service delivery and research running simultaneously as one project.
“It has cross sector support and participation, as well as retention and participation of farmers … (and) I am confident that the research results evident from the past three years of the project will continue to be demonstrated and improved,” he said.
“I expect that the program will influence future national policy regarding the health and well-being of rural farming communities.”