Hamilton-based farmer health centre thrown a lifeline

HAMILTON’S National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) has been thrown a last-minute rescue package by the Commonwealth government. 

Closure was looming for the centre where just three workers remain. 

Wannon MP Dan Tehan yesterday announced Canberra would offer the centre a $375,000 lifeline. 

The state government had already committed $250,000. 

Western District Health Service has spent more than a year lobbying governments to provide support for the NCFH. 

“What this will do is provide a base to re-launch the centre and its flagship Sustainable Farm Families Program,” chief executive Jim Fletcher told The Standard. 

“We were in the process of phasing down and we had just three staff left.” 

The centre still falls short of reaching its $1 million target. 

But yesterday’s announcement means it will stay open for at least another 18 months. 

Mr Fletcher said another three to five staff could be hired.

On top of the government cash, Dairy Australia will provide $40,000 for the NCFH to carry out farm health checks in New South Wales. 

In August, health groups in Canada will launch their version of Sustainable Farm Families. 

“Whilst we won’t get much money from that we will get some royalties. It is fantastic for the reputation of the NCFH,” Mr Fletcher said. 

Mr Fletcher, who will retire as chief executive at the end of this month, reflected on the hard battle the centre had fought. 

National Centre for Farmer Health director Sue Brumby (left), Western District Health Service CEO Jim Fletcher, centre lecturer and researcher Jacquie Cotton and centre agrisafe clinician and nurse Mark Atcheson pictured in 2013, as funding concerns were raised.

National Centre for Farmer Health director Sue Brumby (left), Western District Health Service CEO Jim Fletcher, centre lecturer and researcher Jacquie Cotton and centre agrisafe clinician and nurse Mark Atcheson pictured in 2013, as funding concerns were raised.

“I always thought we would get the funding … there were some moments when you looked at it and slight glimmers of hope were disappearing into the sunset,” he said. 

“It’s been a long road.” 

The centre has had broad support from both sides of state politics and the Victorian Farmers Federation. 

State Upper House MP Simon Ramsay called on Canberra to keep funding the centre next year. 

“We can’t do it on our own  and as a national centre the name quite rightly identifies the funding approach that should be taken federally for the centre. A national centre should have national support,” Mr Ramsay said.

Federal Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash said the government accepted farmers and rural communities experienced higher rates of death, morbidity and chronic disease compared with their urban counterparts. 

“This funding enables the NCFH to continue their work to improve the health, safety and well-being of people living and working in farm communities,” Ms Nash said.

Mr Tehan said the government had listened to the pleas of the health service. 

“Jim Fletcher, CEO of the Western District Health Service, Sue Brumby, the NCFH director, the Victorian Farmers Federation and the National Farmers Federation have lobbied hard throughout the past year for funding to continue and I congratulate them on their hard work to keep this important service which benefits local farmers,” Mr Tehan said. 

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