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Windorah rejoices as upgraded health clinic opens after decade-long battle in outback Qld

Marylin Simpson feels she has seen it all when it comes to the ups and downs of health services in outback Queensland. 

Her family has lived in the central-west town of Windorah for generations, where the nearest small hospital service is 300 kilometres away in Longreach and the nearest major hospital is 1,000 kilometres away at Rockhampton.

There is a clinic in town, but as the population has aged and more tourists seek an outback adventure, it has struggled to keep up.

However, after a decade-long campaign, the locals are celebrating a new service they say will save lives.

Healthy locals, healthy tourists

Windorah's first health clinic opened in 1992, prompting more visits from GPs and enabling services like mental health consultations.

But pressure on the service grew as tourism flourished in the vibrant town — known for its wildflowers and bright red sand dunes.

"When [the health system] fails, the community are the people who have to look after the visitors," Ms Simpson said.

"We were the people who [visitors] had to contact for help prior to having a clinic."

Ms Simpson, the local publican, is the president of the Community Development Board.

She and several others lobbied the Queensland government to upgrade the clinic their community of 100 people had outgrown.

"The consultation rooms weren't private enough. They were going straight into the waiting room and everybody could hear the conversations," Ms Simpson said.

"It became a bit too small for what was being provided by Central West [Hospital and Heath Service] and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

The new $12.4 million primary health clinic opened on February 2, complete with two extra clinic rooms, a reception, body room and ambulance parking bay.

"It was a long journey to get there, but we're here," Ms Simpson said.

Bringing Windorah into the 21st century

Mithaka traditional owner Trudy Gorringe has both volunteered and worked in the region's health sector, and is currently a volunteer with Queensland Fire and Emergency Service.

"Just having the newer set-up, providing multiple [patients'] care is going to take a lot of stress off, not just ourselves in what we try and help the clinical staff with, but also our nurses and our RFDS doctors," she said.

"It's bringing us into the 21st century, isn't it?

"We've always done with what we've had and we've been very appreciative of what we've had.

"As a community member, and working with aged people and my mother having specialist care as well … I just think its keeping things up to speed for our older people."

The facility has been designed to facilitate expansion should community needs grow.

Ms Gorringe hoped the new technology and capacity for growth meant older people would not have to travel as much for specialist medical appointments.

Looking to the future

A Central West Hospital and Health Service (CWHHS) spokesperson said the old clinic saw 1,236 patient appointments and 194 emergency presentations last year, a big increase from the 950 appointments and 177 presentations it saw just five years ago in 2017.

The new clinic has been upgraded from two consultation rooms to four, and from one emergency bay to two.

The clinic is staffed with two nurses and an administration officer, but has the capacity to employ more during busy periods.

CWHHS finance, infrastructure and support services executive director Joe Byrne said tourism had increased demand for outback health clinics.

"It's definitely a phenomenon we're seeing across the central-west, just that increase in the number of tourists coming through the region," he said.

He said CWHHS was also looking at what it needed to do "from an infrastructure perspective in harsher climates and the local conditions that we'll have in Windorah".

Mr Byrne hoped upgraded staff accommodation would help to attract and retain staff in the remote community.

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