Healthcare providers in Western Australia are calling for more action against youth crime after nurses needed to be evacuated from a remote northern community.

Key points:

  • The remote community’s only medical service has been left severely understaffed
  • Health officials say preventative measures must be put in place to reduce youth crime
  • The three nurses who were relocated are expected to return to Jigalong this week

Police were called to a property in Jigalong, 160 kilometres east of Newman, early on Monday morning when a group of young people allegedly attempted to enter the home of three nurses by scaling the security fence.

The nurses, all employed by Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service (PAMS), were quickly relocated to Newman.

“It caused them a lot of anxiety,” PAMS chief executive Robby Chibawe said.

The three juveniles are facing multiple charges, including attempted aggravated home burglary with intent.

The healthcare staff are expected to return to the community before the end of the week.

The service – the only one in the community – will be forced to operate with a single nurse until then.

A man with short, dark hair stands outside a medical centre.

Robby Chibawe says policing has its limits and that more preventative steps need to be taken to tackle youth crime.(ABC Pilbara: Susan Standen)

Call for ‘upstream’ solutions

The incident has trigged outrage in Jigalong and sparked calls for more investment from state and federal government in preventative programs.

“It’s a beautiful community,” Mr Chibawe said.

“It’s just every now and then there’s a wave of youth crime.

“The community is taking it upon themselves to actually do something about this.”

Dusk falls over a vast desert plain.

Only one nurse will be working in Jigalong until the others return.(ABC Rural: Eliza Wood)

Escalating youth crime in northern WA has been high on the agenda of Police Minister Paul Papalia, who expanded the multi-million dollar Operation Regional Shield to the Pilbara in early 2022.

Additional resources were deployed to South and Port Hedland and Newman as part of the initiative, but Mr Chibawe said policing only went so far.

“Solutions need to be upstream,” he said.

“Patrols are good and can prevent some of the opportunistic stuff, but is it really nipping the issue in the bud?

“We need to work together to really design programs and solutions to the youth crime in these remote areas.”

A middle-aged man in a dark shirt poses for a headshot.

Chris Pickett says more needs to be done to stop youth crime impacting health services.(Supplied: Chris Pickett)

Health staff ‘need to feel safe’

Pilbara Health Alliance chief executive Chris Pickett said sending young offenders to detention facilities such as the Banksia Hill Detention Centre would not stop the cycle of crime.

“Rather than sending juveniles to Banksia … we need to think about something in the Pilbara for those kids — a place where they get onto the road to recovery,” he said.

“The idea of programs aimed at keeping families together and keeping kids engaged in school is very important.”

Mr Pickett was concerned that crime could impact the ability to deliver vital health services to regional communities.

“It could potentially act as a deterrent for the recruitment of nursing and medical staff,” he said.

“People come into these roles knowing its going to be tough.

“They’re working in a remote area with people who are very disadvantaged, but they need to feel safe.

“If you lose services it’s going to have an impact on the nursing capacity in the community.”


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