Key messages

  • The Refugee Health Program (formerly the Refugee Health Nurse Program) operates in 17 local government areas of Victoria.
  • Community health services in other local government areas also provide care for refugee communities.
  • The program responds to the poor health and complex health issues of arriving refugees in Victoria.
  • Service coordination is important for the community health services that run the program or otherwise provide refugee health care.

The Refugee Health Program (RHP) began in 2005, with the aim of responding to the poor health and complex health issues of arriving refugees in Victoria. The program aims to:

  • increase refugee access to primary health services
  • improve how health services respond to refugees’ needs
  • coordinate a response to newly arrived refugees
  • help individuals, families and refugee communities improve their health and wellbeing.

The program is delivered by community health services (CHSs), and employs community health nurses, allied health professionals and assistants, and bicultural workers. The nurses and other health professionals have expertise in working with culturally and linguistically diverse and marginalised communities.

The program operates in areas with high numbers of newly arrived refugees. CHSs are well positioned to deliver services to refugees because they have a close relationship with their community and they can connect people with a broad range of other health and human services.

Services offered by the program

To optimise the long-term health of refugees, the program promotes accessible and culturally appropriate health care services. These services are innovative and responsive to the unique needs of refugees. In this way, the program builds the capacity of individuals, families and refugee communities to improve their health.

This improvement is due to:

  • better disease management and prevention
  • the development of referral networks and cooperative relationships with general practitioners and other health providers
  • connection with social support and orientation programs.

The program supports a coordinated model of care with a particular focus on the importance of identifying and intervening in health issues early for refugees who are new to living here.

The RHP improves the response of health services to refugee health needs by building agency capacity, supporting networking and professional development and advocacy with other providers.

To see whether the program is delivered by a CHS near you, refer to the list of Refugee Health Program providers.

Program supports

Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture

The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House) provides training for refugee health nurses and community-based nurses who care for refugee populations. The Foundation also undertakes a range of other work, including direct care, advocacy and research.

Foundation House is also the auspice for the Refugee Health Network, providing a significant level of resources and support (including use of facilities)

Refugee health program facilitator

A refugee health program facilitator is located at Cohealth in Footscray. The facilitator has three functions:

  • to increase CHSs’ responsiveness to refugees’ needs by providing CHSs with organisational development, advice and support
  • to provide secondary consultation to refugee health nurses and allied health professionals
  • to contribute to, and promote, the professional development of refugee health nurses and allied health professionals.

The refugee health program facilitator works closely with refugee health nurses, allied health professionals, CHSs and the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture. The facilitator also works with the Department of Health & Human Services and other relevant agencies and health organisations.

Service coordination

The HealthWest Primary Care Partnership was commissioned to develop a refugee health service coordination guide. The aim of the guide is to support service coordination in areas that are new to receiving refugees.

Other projects support service coordination in local primary care partnership areas. For case studies about these projects, refer to Primary Care Partnerships.