HEALTH REPORT: Darling Downs Public Health Unit director Dr Penny Hutchinson said improvement was needed in the health system, despite high child immunisation rates.
HEALTH REPORT: Darling Downs Public Health Unit director Dr Penny Hutchinson said improvement was needed in the health system, despite high child immunisation rates. Jessica McGrath

Health challenges ahead despite good report card

CHILDHOOD immunisation rates are strong within the Darling Downs, but several health challenges still remain.

This is according to the biennial 2018 Health of Queenslanders Report released this week by the Queensland Health Chief Officer.

Darling Downs Public Health Unit director Dr Penny Hutchinson said the good news in the report included a strong immunisation rate for the region's five-year-olds.

"The report shows our immunisation rate for children at five years of age is sitting at 96 per cent, above the target of 95 per cent and higher than the state average of 94 per cent,” she said.

For every 100 five-year-olds living in the Darling Downs region, 96 have had all of their vaccinations.

"This is an important achievement as the immunisation rate at this level provides what we call herd immunity, providing the best protection against many vaccine-preventable diseases for the whole community,” Dr Hutchinson said.

"It is important that parents remain diligent in having their children immunised to protect them against life-threatening diseases such as whooping cough, meningococcal disease and measles.”

There were still several areas of concern across the Darling Downs Health area, including obesity, physical activity and smoking rates.

Obesity in the Darling Downs is about 20 per cent higher than the state average.

"It's a bit of a double whammy as 14 per cent of adults, or 30,000 people, are physically inactive, which is 45 per cent higher than the state average,” she said.

Physical activity levels for children could also be improved with 48 per cent active every day.

"There are also alarming statistics for children's nutrition levels, with more than half of children across Darling Downs Health consuming salty or sweet snacks or confectionery every day,” Dr Hutchinson said.

"While this is close to the state average, it is still an area of great concern as unhealthy eating habits when people are young are often carried into adulthood.”

Across Queensland, there have been 4146 hospital admissions for tooth decay among children under nine-years-old and in the Darling Downs 48 per cent of five and six-year-olds have tooth decay.

Dental conditions are one of the leading causes of preventable hospital admissions in the Darling Downs.

The report also showed that smoking rates were higher than the state average with one in eight adults lighting up daily.

"This is five per cent higher than the state average with 26,000 adults smoking everyday, with 16 per cent of women smoking while pregnant,” she said.

Darling Downs Health have provided a strategic approach to supporting smoking cessation, including nicotine replacement therapies, education for staff and community groups on options to assist with quitting, and a targeted program to reduce Indigenous smoking rates.

They had an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Action Plan, which set out goals to address the disparity in health outcomes for indigenous people.

"This includes things like increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who attend ante-natal appointments and decreasing rates of patients being discharged against medical advice,” she said.

The report showed the number of potentially preventable hospitalisations was increasing, placing more pressure on the healthcare system.

"More than 12,000 hospitalisations were potentially preventable and could have been treated in the primary health sector which is why we're urging everyone to work with their GP to ensure that they stay out of hospital if they can,” Dr Hutchinson said.

The most common contributors were diabetes, dental conditions, and chronic obstructive pulmonary or lung diseases.

The report also revealed the suicide rate of 40 people a year between 2013 and 2015 was also slightly higher than the state average.

It reported women in the Darling Downs and South Burnett have an average life expectancy of an extra year compared with the whole of Queensland.

"On average women in our area live to 84 whereas the state average is 83, while male's life expectancy here matches the Queensland average of 77 years,” she said.

The median age for Indigenous area is much lower at 59 years.