SHFPACT 2019-2020 Annual Report
Council and Executive Report
It is challenging to report to SHFPACT’s members and stakeholders about a year as extraordinary as this one.
2019 ended and 2020 began for the Canberra community amid the environmental and personal impacts of a bushfire season that extended over many months, layering our city and the wider region in a blanket of smoke and ash. And many of our wider and organisational community were caught up as fires ravaged the South Coast, and threatened to reach our outer suburbs for the first time since 2003. That phase terminated in Canberra with a damaging hail storm, and was followed promptly by the COVID-19 global pandemic and public health responses that have dominated the rest of 2020.
It is also important to acknowledge that our staff team has also faced an extraordinary year in terms of illness, loss and grief in our immediate and extended families that has added an extra layer of challenge.
Despite this, and perhaps even due to the imposed need to approach work in a different way that our whole world has had to grapple with, the team pivoted to new modes of engaging and responding to deliver services to our clients and community during the initial pandemic response. SHFPACT was grateful to receive additional financial supports from both the Australian and ACT Governments that enabled the organisation to make necessary shifts. And organisations directly funded by the ACT Government were supported by Ministers with permission to operate flexibly to respond as needed. Non-government organisations, including SHFPACT, worked with our government colleagues to navigate this environment, working to rapidly identify and respond to emerging community needs as best we could in a constantly evolving situation.
The part of the story covered in this report about the 2019-20 financial year ends rather abruptly just as SHFPACT began to return to a level of activity in our clinical services that reflected pre-COVID norms, and just as our education and training programs are about to deliver all of the delayed and deferred work from March-June 2020 and a normal volume of activity for July-September 2020 simultaneously.
We were disappointed that some activities, like our flagship doctors course, require a lead time that meant the program was not offered in 2020 at all. And we have been very pleased with the unanticipated benefits that offering other clinical training activities in amended formats has delivered in terms of quality of training experience for participants. Despite a high degree of uncertainty about our ability to run the program at the start of the pandemic, especially the clinical placement components, SHFPACT was able to offer the Well Women’s Screening Course to a limited number of participants in some revised delivery formats.
The majority of SHFPACT’s schools education and community education work was cancelled or deferred in Term 2 (April-June), as school communities grappled with the task of moving to off-site/remote learning for most students in late Term 1, and then back to classrooms by the end of Term 2. We also took the decision to defer the commencement of new group work programs for young adults with disabilities, and to end existing groups earlier to minimise potential infection risks during Australia’s first wave of coronavirus infection for a vulnerable population group. We continued to offer one-to-one counselling/education services online during this period.
SHFPACT Council, the staff team, and our clients have all been pushed by circumstance to embrace the online world to engage and communicate. One of the early benefits has been the confidence and skills this has built, and the familiarity and acceptability within our wider community of accessing education, training and clinical care in this way when required. Council has met online since February, and the majority of team meetings internally and engagement with external partners and stakeholders have also been held this way.
We are particularly proud of the way our clinical team rapidly adapted to offer services online and by telephone, as face-to-face consultations were deferred. We heard from our colleagues both in tertiary hospital settings and in wider general practice about the potential impact of reduced access to asymptomatic screening for sexually transmissible infections (STIs).
The SHFPACT team stepped in to offer an almost contactless model for this service to help fill the gap. And we were grateful to receive some ACT Government financial assistance to cover the costs of offering this service under pandemic response conditions.
While initial STI notification data indicated a drop in reported infections during the initial pandemic response shutdown (March-June), we have been able to determine that this is likely a combined result of both reduced testing levels overall, plus social distancing measures changing or reducing sexual risk behaviours. A planned ACT Government sexual health campaign on STIs was deferred during this period to later in 2020 to leave communications bandwidth open for pandemic messaging and to allow for some tweaking of the campaign to reflect impacts of the public health response.
The leadership team demonstrated an ability to precisely and quickly identify our core essential work from important services that could be deferred in the short-term. We advocated locally — and with other family planning organisations nationally — to governments on decisions that impacted how flexible services can be delivered (such as the restrictions of telehealth eligibility under Medicare), and collectively shaped clinical guidance advice for our colleagues in primary healthcare regarding the longer-term public health impacts of deferred services in areas such as cervical screening, contraceptive access and unplanned pregnancy. And we returned sooner than anticipated to direct delivery of this essential service suite. At the end of June SHFPACT remained in restricted services setting to be COVID-safe.
As the organisation moves forward, we have clearly defined both the circumstances in which any future restrictions of service would occur, and are clear about the essential core of work that we will seek to maintain unless it is impossible to do so. We contributed with many other diverse NGO service providers to helping ACT Government define what ‘essential services’ are in the ACT context.
The remainder of 2020 unfolds with continuing uncertainty in our wider environment about the course of the pandemic, but with the knowledge that SHFPACT’s services are highly demanded, and recognising the capacity and capabilities of the staff team to adjust to extraordinary conditions. In the advocacy and funding environment a major health services planning and NGO procurement process by ACT Government is underway, and ACT Election 2020 took place in October electing an ALP-led government including strong Greens representation. The incoming Government’s election commitments include specific commitments in sexual health policy in SHFPACT’s areas of work. SHFPACT’s ongoing advocacy positions the organisation well to articulate community health needs in reproductive and sexual health.
Read the complete SHFPACT 2019-2020 Annual Report from the link below.