CEO Primary Matters – 9 September 2020

Being Extra Mindful This Women’s Health Week

As Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN) continues to reinforce the ‘See Your GP’ message and the importance of staying on top of those niggling health concerns before they get worse, this week is very important as we direct our attention to women’s health.

This week is Women’s Health Week (7-11 September). I know that many of us are currently busy – whether it is working from home, home schooling, lambing season, stage 4 restrictions – the list goes on – and we can usually find an excuse to put our health and wellbeing second. This became evident to me as while I am trying to participate in STEPtember and aiming for 10,000 steps a day, some days I barely get to 4,000. I am embarrassed to say this, but I am sure there are others in the same boat.

The annual Women’s Health Week is not so much of a reminder that we should for this week alone pay more attention to women’s health, but rather a reminder that we should be paying attention to it all year round. Perhaps this year more than any.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) published an article earlier in the week urging women to book a health check with their GP due to recent MBS data revealing a significant drop in female attendances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of these worrying statistics include:

  • A drop of nearly 24 per cent in the number of female face-to-face GP attendances from March to June 2020, compared to the same period last year.
  • For the most common GP item number 23, a consultation lasting less than 20 minutes, the decrease in female attendances was more than 26 per cent.
  • Almost 14 per cent drop in select women’s health MBS services from March to June 2020, compared to the same period last year.

These statistics indicate a decrease in screening rates, such as cervical screening tests, mammograms, osteoporosis and bowel cancer – all crucial for early detection of cancers and saving lives. Furthermore, domestic violence has surged during COVID-19 and increased stressors associated with COVID-19 such as home schooling, caring for others, uncertainty and economic stress can make self-care even less of a priority for some.

Be sure to tune in to what is sure to be a fantastic free webinar called ‘Breast Screen and Surgery, The Myths Busted‘ at 7pm on 10 September, presented by the team at Specialists on Drummond and Sovereign Radiology from Ballarat with BreastScreen Victoria, where an expert panel will discuss the myths and questions revolving around breast screening and surgery. Please check the Women’s Health Week website and This Women’s Health Week and the Jean Hailes website for online activities to remind you to put your health first.

Let’s ensure that we take time out to check in on our female friends and colleagues.

World Suicide Prevention Day & R U OK? Day

Thursday 10 September 2020 is both World Suicide Prevention Day and R U OK? Day.

As many primary health care providers face exhaustion from many months on the front lines fighting COVID-19 and protecting our communities, I urge you all to reach out to your colleagues, family and friends and ask them the simple question: are you okay?

We must all help each other through this battle and sincerely asking this simple question – not just on 10 September, but any day – could make someone’s day all the more brighter and potentially save a life.

The suicide rate for western Victoria is unacceptably high and we want to ensure that people struggling with thoughts of suicide or have attempted suicide have support networks available to help them when and where they need it.

WVPHN is proud to have a lead role in developing regionally-appropriate suicide prevention activities to support the Federal Government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy. Victoria’s Primary Health Networks are leading the response to this framework through 12 place-based strategies to suicide prevention, with two suicide prevention place-based trials being delivered in our region:  Ballarat and Great South Coast, with a Geelong place-based initiative commencing recently. Keep an eye out for these activity trials as they work to save lives.

Take care, stay safe and please remember: there’s more to say after ‘are you okay?’ and a conversation could change a life.


Rowena Clift

Chief Executive Officer


If you, or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 000, visit your nearest hospital emergency or use any of the crisis helplines:

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