Farmer health research in jeopardy

Farmer health research in jeopardy


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Sue Brumby Director of National Centre Farmer Health with Western District Health Service chief executive Jim Fletcher, centre lecturer and researcher Jacquie Cotton and Agrisafe clinician Mark Atcheson. Photo: DAMIAN WHITE

Sue Brumby Director of National Centre Farmer Health with Western District Health Service chief executive Jim Fletcher, centre lecturer and researcher Jacquie Cotton and Agrisafe clinician Mark Atcheson. Photo: DAMIAN WHITE

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THE globally successful National Centre for Farmer Health, based at Hamilton is grinding to a halt as the State and Federal Government's tit for tat avoids paying the $1 million cost of running the centre.

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THE globally successful National Centre for Farmer Health, based at Hamilton is grinding to a halt as the State and Federal Government's tit for tat avoids paying the $1 million cost of running the centre.

A stoush between both levels of governments to pay $500,000 each to continue the centre and its flagship service called Sustainable Farming Families is disappointing and reflects politicians "lack of vision and leadership to date", according to Western District Health Service chief executive Jim Fletcher.

"The only reason the NCFH is surviving is that we've attracted research grants and Queensland Rural Medical Education, so that's enables us to continue on in some format (until June 2014)," Mr Fletcher said.

"One of the challenges for us is that without the core funding, it is always a question which casts doubt in funding bodies minds whether you have the capacity to deliver considering no secure future."-

The centre's management frustrations stem from several independent reports which praised the health programs, including one by Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, which reported the SFF program return on investment was $5.60 for everyone $1 the government invested, however was unable to be remunerated with government support.

The NCFH was initially funded by the State Government in 2008 and focused on assisting agricultural men and women with health, well-being and safety.

Despite the hailed success of the centre which has also been flagged as a model to be implemented in Alberta, Canada rural farming communities, no ongoing government funding has led to a halved workforce with further staffing cuts expected in June next year.

"At the moment we've gone from 12 staff to six," Mr Fletcher said.

"Once we get passed June next year, staffing numbers will reduce again."

He said Victorian Farmers Federation recent public support for the program, which called on urgent government funding had resulted in further meetings between governments and NCFH management.

"The idea is to secure $1m of core funding on a recurrent basis and then that gives you the opportunity to leverage that through research grants and trusts to add onto the work," Mr Fletcher said.

"The program speaks for itself but unfortunately the politicians don't seem to make the link that the agricultural industry will increase productivity but to do that you need a healthy workforce.

"And all the health indicators show our people working on farms, their health status is not as good as the rest of rural Victoria or nor nearly as good as metropolitan (residents)."

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