Nicki Herriot

CEO, Northern Territory Primary Healthcare Network
March 2018
Recently, Australia has seen the introduction of Primary Healthcare Networks (PHNs). One of the important functions of the PHNs is to act as a principal commissioning agent for Commonwealth funded AOD services across all jurisdictions. A total of 31 PHNs have been established; each functioning with their own unique style and approach that reflects the specific needs, interests and priorities of the geographical areas and populations that they serve. In this issue of Connections we talk to Nicki Herriot, CEO of the Northern Territory PHN. She shares her views about the AOD challenges facing the NT and her aspirations for addressing those challenges. The roles played by PHNs across the country are of pivotal importance and especially in relation to addressing the AOD needs of communities in rural and remote Australia.

Tell us a bit about your background and where you worked before you became CEO of the NT PHN?  

I commenced as CEO of the NTML in August 2014 and lead the transition of the organisation to NT PHN in July 2015.  My background is in corporate function. Prior to moving to the NT I held senior leadership positions in HR and Corporate Services in the Queensland Government.

What motivated you to work in the NT PHN? 

I have always been motivated to work for organisations where I feel I can make a difference.  NT PHN’s vision is that people in the NT enjoy their best health and wellbeing.  I feel very fortunate to lead a team who are passionate about this.  

Tell us a bit about what it’s like to work in a PHN with a significant rural and remote presence?  

Working at NT PHN is both rewarding and challenging. Our PHN covers the whole NT, over 1.3 million sq kilometres, with a population of approximately 245 000 spread over regional, remote and very remote locations. There are very significant primary health care issues. Our population has a disproportionately high burden of disease across conditions such as cancer, mental illness and substance abuse.  Almost one third of our population is Aboriginal compared to 3 per cent nationally. On all indicators of health status, quality of life and social and emotional wellbeing Aboriginal people have worse health outcomes than non-Aboriginal people.  As a commissioning organisation it is particularly important for us to closely engage to build and maintain strong partnerships to co-design innovative localised service solutions.  People who work for NT PHN are very committed to making a difference.

What do you see as the major challenges associated with rural and remote service provision?  

Our large geographical region with diverse climate extremes and a sparsely dispersed population presents many challenges.  Providing equitable primary health care services is expensive and needs stakeholders to work together to create innovative solutions.  In addition, there are ongoing challenges to attract and retain a skilled and culturally appropriate workforce.

Going forward, what do you see as the key priorities for the NT PHN in commissioning AOD services?

  • Coordination with other funding bodies (Northern Territory Department of Health, Prime Minister & Cabinet) and peak bodies (AADANT & AMSANT) to ensure service coverage and minimal replication.  We have undertaken broad needs assessment and service mapping projects that provide a good snapshot of the AOD sector and workforce.  The unique challenges of a large geographic area, relatively small population clusters and a very diverse client demographic means we have to work smarter, and collaborate well with all stakeholders to ensure resources for the AOD sector are applied as effectively, and as equitably as possible.
  • A continued focus on all levels of workforce development to build, support and strengthen the AOD sector workforce.  Working with stakeholders for the collaborative development of a long term Workforce Development Plan for the AOD sector of the NT that provides a road map for overcoming endemic issues of staff recruitment and retention, developing a skilled workforce and embedding best practice models.
  • Continuing to commission a Social and Emotional Wellbeing model of care in coordination with NT Government and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health services.  The effective integration of AOD services into a holistic model of care is showing great benefit in addressing the needs of Aboriginal clients in a culturally responsive manner.

What do you think are the main challenges facing the NT AOD sector over the next few years?

  • Building and maintaining a skilled, well supported workforce.
  • The sheer magnitude of AOD-related problems in the NT and working with the limited resources available to address this effectively.
  • The need for much more expansive education and social development work around harm reduction to stem the tide of demand for treatment services.
  • Addressing the tragic, endemic rates of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
  • Ending incidents of volatile substance abuse (VSA). 

How do you think the NT PHN and the AOD sector can work together to overcome those challenges?

  • The collaborative development and implementation of a Workforce Development Plan for the NT AOD sector will provide coordination and guidance for addressing the workforce needs of the sector.  Embedding changes in systemic and organisational workforce practices and targeted investment in training for staff matched to the demands of the sector.  Working with training providers to develop contextualised training opportunities to meet the NT-specific needs of the sector.
  • Through maintaining strong networks that bring together Commonwealth and NT Government bodies, the NGO sector, ACCH services, academic organisations and private providers to coordinate responses to current needs of the sector.  Coordinating and communicating well with all stakeholders will achieve the most efficient and effective outcomes when commissioning services and will limit unnecessary duplication and gaps.
  • Early intervention and good social support mechanisms can greatly reduce the development of more serious AOD issues.  When commissioning services, we need to ensure that we have targets that achieve a sensible balance between treatment services and preventative work.
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is now being recognised as a major health crisis in urgent need of attention.  It is vital that all stakeholders across the AOD spectrum work in collaboration with other sectors to develop a response to this ongoing health crisis.  The establishment of solid research, assessment and treatment options will be vital to containing FASD occurrences.
  • The impacts of Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) on the neurological development and ongoing health of young people can be devastating.  NT PHN have a recognised focal point on youth AOD management and recognise that this is a complex part of that work.  By engaging with experts in the topic and providing funding and support to programs that address this issue we hope to see the reduction of this problem.

In your experience, what are some of the key differences between the NT PHN and other PHNs across the country in relation to identifying and responding to AOD issues?

  • The level of engagement and coordination with other stakeholders in the sector.  Being a geographically large, remote and demographically complex region to work across with limited resources, it is vital that the whole sector works together to provide the best coverage possible.
  • Although not unique to NT PHN, our focus is on broadly engaging with and listening to the sector and being responsive to identified needs.  The ongoing AOD network meetings, for which we are partnering with AADANT, are providing the opportunity for all staff in the sector – from frontline workers through to upper management – to feed their expertise and experience into our planning and delivery of work.
Nicki Herriot

Nicki Herriot is a dynamic professional with a focus on leading teams to build an inclusive and high performing organisation. Ms Herriot was appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer at NT PHN in October 2014 following her tenure as Executive Manager Corporate Services, having previously held the position of Director Workforce Engagement for Queensland Transport and Main Roads. As CEO, Nicki leads the Senior Executive Leadership Team and works with the Board to deliver strategically aligned leadership and support to the organisation. Ms Herriot has been integral to the organisation’s rapid growth and strategic commissioning of equitable needs-based health programs.