North Queensland Regional Health Plan – NQPHN, 2021

  • Project Name: North Queensland Regional Health Plan – NQPHN, 2021

  • Location: North QLD

How diverse approaches to community engagement helped plan for better mental health, suicide prevention and alcohol and drug services

The Context

In 2017, the COAG Health Council endorsed The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (Fifth Plan). With the acceptance of the Fifth Plan, all governments in Australia committed to work together to integrate mental health and suicide prevention-related services.

Health services were required to prepare joint regional mental health and suicide prevention plans to help integrate regional planning and service delivery. In northern Queensland, the planning partners opted to include alcohol and other drugs in their regional plan. The partners in this plan were diverse and included North Queensland Public Health Network (NQPHN), the Health and Hospital Service (HHS) for Torres Strait and Cape, Cairns and Hinterland, Townsville and Mackay and the Mental Health Alcohol and Other Drugs Branch of Queensland Health.

Engagement Plus was contracted by the NQPHN to assist in the development of the plan by conducting research, leading the engagement and collating an outcome report which included the research and engagement findings.

The Engagement

The focus for the engagement was to understand, ‘How to provide an improved consumer and carer experience through better integration of planning, funding and service delivery?’ The engagement was required across the four areas of the region. The stakeholders were HHS staff, people with lived experience, carers, family members in the regional centres and people in remote Aboriginal communities, including Thursday Island, Weipa, and Yarraman.

The Objectives

The project aimed to identify how to improve outcomes and experiences for consumers and carers by improving coordination between the organisations that fund, plan and deliver mental health, suicide prevention and alcohol and other drug services. These organisations include primary health networks, hospital and health services and non-government organisations, including private health providers and not-for-profit providers.

We were also asked to review related literature and research, and report on the outcomes of these activities.

The Approach

In order to complete our review and research, and ensure the planning partners received the information they needed, we designed a three-stage engagement plan for the period from October 2019 to March 2020:

  • Stage 1: Literature Review
  • Stage 2: Preliminary Stakeholder Engagement
  • Stage 3: Community and Sector Engagement

The three different stages helped the planning partners better understand the needs and views of the community when it comes to mental health, suicide prevention, alcohol and other drug services. They would also enable the community and vital stakeholders to have their say in the best way to ensure that services were cohesive and integrated across the region.

Stage One: Initial Literature Review

Engagement Plus completed an initial literature review of almost 50 documents. The literature review helped provide a complete picture of the mental health, suicide prevention, alcohol and other drugs landscape at a global, national, state, regional and local level.

Stage Two: Preliminary Stakeholder Engagement

Once the literature review was completed, we conducted 15 in-depth preliminary stakeholder interviews with key organisations within the mental health, suicide prevention, alcohol and other drugs area.

The purpose of these interviews was to:

  • gain additional insights that would allow us to better guide future engagement on the project with stakeholders and relevant communities
  • help us to develop stronger project protocols for engaging with people with lived experience, especially those in remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • enable us to learn from these key stakeholders, especially regarding how they wanted to be engaged in the project as it moved forward
  • leverage early stakeholder input to shape the Plan and develop a better understanding of the project context.

Stage Three: Community and Sector Engagement

Following the interviews, we completed face-to-face engagement over 34 events and across 15 locations. Many of these were regional and remote locations and we worked with local community groups and organisations to help us to set-up the consultations and promote the engagement activities in the local community. We used highly visual material to reflect the many themes that were the subject of the engagement conversations.

Unfortunately, during the last stage of the engagement, COVID-19 restrictions put a stop to some of our planned activities. We were committed to having each region contribute to the research, so we designed alternative methods to engage the community during these challenging times.

We contacted the individuals who had registered for events that were cancelled and offered alternative methods to participate, including by telephone, video conference, emails or surveys. We also developed an innovative online survey to reach others in the region. Through these activities, 198 individuals participated in engagement despite cancellations and difficulties.

The Outcomes

Once all our reviews, interviews and other engagements were completed, we gathered the data and information, analysed it in light of the strengths that the services currently demonstrated and the challenges and new opportunities for those services, and compiled suggested actions for the Plan.

The planning partners used our report to formulate the Joint Regional Wellbeing Plan for Northern Queensland which was published in December 2020. This Joint Regional Wellbeing Plan was a first for the region and a great example of what can be achieved by disparate entities that are aligned in their vision.

Lessons Learned

The North Queensland Regional Health Plan project shows just how well a variety of approaches to community engagement can work to provide actionable information and data. Combining interviews with community events, focus groups and surveys, these methods, with direct interactions with key stakeholders at both the individual and community levels, provides better and deeper understanding of the issues at play.

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Using a variety of approaches to community engagement enables you to gather valuable insight on community-focused projects. Get in touch to see how Engagement Plus can help you today.