Queensland CHF R&R SIG members in action at Cairns forum

Three CHF Rural and Remote Special Interest Group (CHF R&R SIG) Queensland members attended in-person the Queensland Rural and Remote Clinical Network (QRRCN) annual forum in Cairns on 7 June 2023. Another Health Consumers Queensland (HCQ) member, Maureen Woodward, came from Far Western Queensland to represent the rights and interests of First Nations Rural and Remote health consumers. The event saw more than 225 delegates attend online and in person.

The forum’s keynote speaker was the Honourable Warren Snowdon, a former politician who served as a member of the House of Representatives for the Northern Territory from over 10 years. He was also the Member for Lingiari from November 2001 until May 2022. Amongst other Ministerial appointments, he was Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Services Delivery from June 2009 until September 2010 and Minister for Indigenous Health from September 2010 until September 2013. Warren shared his reflections and experience as a leader, using his position to empower others and encourage collaboration.

The three experienced delegates representing Queensland rural and remote health consumers included Jan Corcoran (Cairns), Deborah Robins (Cairns), and Carolyn Becker (Ropeley). They were delighted to be involved in this high-level forum, networking with Queensland’s finest rural and remote health professionals. The ladies keenly engaged in the afternoon session, hosted by the Office of Rural and Remote Health, with a workshop on shared employment models.

Deborah said, “After the first two updates, I marvelled why we are not all more informed about the important work of this professional network across Queensland. I particularly enjoyed the interactive group work, exchanging views and brainstorming potential staffing solutions for our remote health services.”

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A group of people at a conference centre
Left – Melissa Fox; 3rd on left – Carolyn Becker; Middle – Jan Corcoran; and third from right – Deb Robins.

Carolyn is the sole health consumer representative on the QRRCN Steering Committee and Queensland Health’s Rural and Remote Workforce Program (FORCE). She was recently appointed to the Queensland Teletrial Steering Committee. Carolyn is one of a team of four who helped to establish the initial HCQ and Ministerial Health Consumer Advisory Committee in the Office of the Director-General, Queensland Health following the Bundaberg Hospital and Dr. Jayant Patel episode.

Following this seminal work, Carolyn joined her local Lockyer Valley Toastmasters Club and became a Toastmasters’ “tragic.” She suggested her involvement with her local club; the fully online, international HOT Toastmasters Club; and her division director role with twenty-three clubs across South-Western Queensland, has given her the knowledge, skills, and confidence to be a voice for Australian health consumers.

Jan Corcoran has been a consumer representative for the Cairns Hospital for the past four years. She said she is “very grateful to learn as I go.”  Jan is particularly proud of her work with TELESTROKE, and so pleased that TELESTROKE has gone live, saying “Queenslanders now have a great tool.” 

Deborah is growing in her population health consumer roles. She was recently appointed to the Trinity Community Consultation Committee for the Cairns Hospital and Hinterland Health Service. She also worked on patient-led literacy projects with the Queensland Genomics Community Advisory Group. Deborah has been an enthusiastic, national, and international advocate for Duchenne muscular dystrophy for over 30 years. She believes this rare disease community has taught her about surviving and thriving with a life-limiting and medically complex condition.

It was during an earlier CHF R&R SIG meeting that Carolyn told meeting members about the upcoming QRRCN in Cairns. When she heard Jan and Deb were in the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service District, Carolyn proposed asking the QRRCN Secretariat if Jan and Deb could attend the forum also. This was the start of an interesting journey for the three ladies.

The Secretariat asked Carolyn about the possibility of including an inaugural Consumers’ Choice Award for the best consumer-centred project in the eight Hercules Innovative Presentations (HIP) that were to be presented at the forum. Of course, Carolyn jumped at the opportunity to have the consumer voice well and truly heard. At the invitation of the QRRCN Co-Chairs, Carolyn developed a series of ten consumer-relevant statements to guide the selection of the best consumer-aligned project. Deb and Carolyn then created a scoring matrix.

The HIP was the highlight of the forum. It traditionally is an opportunity for health services and agencies to share their splendid work, projects, and models of care that address health issues, including benefits to enhance the health and wellbeing of rural and remote communities. The range of presentations was amazing, as keynote speaker, the Honourable Warren Snowdon rightly acknowledged when presenting the Judges Award, “there is no winner, but the first among equals.”

Carolyn was especially privileged to present the inaugural Consumers Choice Award on behalf of her colleagues. She gave a special mention to “Palliative care comes to the bush,” presented by Dr Ofra Fried. In second place, Carolyn highlighted “QRCC: Improving access to, and participation in, clinical trials for rural, regional and remote Australians,” presented by Melanie Poxton and Kimberley Bury.

Carolyn described the winner of the Consumers Choice Award, “Happy Heart Clinic,” as “a stand-out, the way they engaged with their community, the inclusiveness, the partnerships, and the fact they were going to make an absolute difference to their community.”  The Happy Heart Clinic, presented by Erin Ferguson of Cairns and Hinterland HHS, took out the hat trick, securing not only the inaugural Consumers’ Choice award, but also the Judges Choice and People’s Choice awards. Erin, who dialled in from an outreach clinic at Kowanyama, was thrilled to present her work, to “give the kids a voice, do something to stop the disease and make a difference anyway she can.”

Melissa Fox, HCQ Chief Executive Officer, gave an overview of the Queensland health consumer body, and its partnering work within the health system and with a range of health services and providers.

Jan summed up the experience, saying she was “honoured to be invited to go on the consumer panel. It was very rewarding to listen to, and be a part of the QRRCN forum, to be involved, and to help consumers by speaking up for them, then sharing their stories with the leaders, and hearing their experience.” 

Carolyn Becker, Jan Corcoran, and Deborah Robins - 10 July 2023


About the author

A woman with brown hair and a green jacket

Carolyn Becker

A woman with grey hair

Jan Corcoran

A woman and a bearded man who is wearing a medical breathing tube to clear his throat

Deborah Robins

Deborah Robins with her son, Doug. Deborah is an advocate for Doug, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), an incurable genetic condition affecting one in every 3,500 male children.