Annabel Bowles

Tropic Now journalist

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Northern Queensland PHN appoint new CEO to Cairns

From a London Business School MBA to overseeing Melbourne’s healthcare services through the thick of COVID-19, it appears there’s little Robin Whyte’s left untouched in her career.

But as she lists the many areas she’s worked in, Robin remains excited for her new role in the Far North as CEO of Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN).

Covering four key regions in Northern Queensland – Cairns, Cape and Torres, Mackay and Townsville – NQPHN is one of 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) in Australia established by the Federal Government to ensure local communities have better access to the primary healthcare sector.

Working with all kinds of services – from hospitals to respiratory clinics, GPs and allied health to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) – NQPHN provides strategic advice and commissions primary health care services that help North Queenslanders live happier, healthier, longer lives.

Since relocating to the Tropical North earlier this year, Robin tells Tropic she spent much of her first few weeks exploring the region.

“One of my first priorities in this role is to go to the furthermost reaches of our catchment and meet our stakeholders there, particularly the ACCHOs,” she said.

“These organisations really look at their communities holistically and don’t take a siloed approach to services, which is a great strength and principle I really support.”

“I want to establish strong working relationships with these organisations, understand what their priorities are, and help them reach their strategic potential.”

Robin explains that PHNs have a particular focus on understanding the needs of local populations, and in “filling the gaps” where local services may be lacking.

Around two-thirds of the organisation’s work is in mental health, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and primary care workforce being two other key priorities.

“The more that we can keep people being looked after in their local community, the better off everyone is,” Robin said.

“Keeping people well and out of hospital, which are complex, expensive and often overburdened places to deliver services – that's the value of a strong primary care sector.”

Robin’s new position follows on from four years as the CEO of Eastern Melbourne PHN and Chair of Eastern Metropolitan Partnership, where she played a key role in providing advice to the Andrews government on the community's needs during COVID-19.

Prior to that, Robin’s held executive roles across a number of healthcare settings.

She tells Tropic one of the most memorable moments of her career saw her secure an urgently needed $22 million redevelopment for a small rural hospital in regional Victoria.

Becoming Australia’s first female Senior Manager at Accenture Strategy Group, an international consulting company, was another of Robin’s milestones.

An MBA at the London Business School was her “turning point” in pursuing a place at the table of decision-makers, and an experience she still reflects on today.

“Through my MBA I was in contact with some of the most incredible, bright-minded people doing astounding things,” Robin said.

“Then as a consultant I got to understand how leading CEOs operate and what’s possible within organisations.

“I want to bring all of these experiences to NQPHN and work with local healthcare professionals and groups to really lift their potential.”


This story originally appeared in Tropic Magazine Issue 28. Read the issue here