The modest commitments made on rural health in the 2013 Election campaign have been confirmed in a health Budget with a strong medical emphasis. These include funding for additional GP consultation rooms for supervising registrars and medical students in rural and remote locations, and a small investment in scholarships for nursing and allied health.
"It is hard to see how the increase in patient contributions will assist in improving access to primary care for people in rural and remote communities" said NRHA Chairperson Tim Kelly.
"Whether it's the $7 co-payment under bulk-billing or the $5 extra in out-of-pocket costs for general patients, the extra cost will have to be borne by either the patient or the GP," he said.
"Out-of-pocket health care costs are already higher in rural and remote areas and many people make extraordinary efforts to access a GP, including paying transport costs. The last thing rural patients need is another barrier to accessing primary care."
Where the reorganisation of functions within the Health portfolio is concerned, the critical matter is not the name of the entity undertaking the work, but that important work is properly resourced and effectively done. The Government will have the opportunity to prove that the critical activity being undertaken by agencies such as the Australian National Preventive Health Agency and Health Workforce Australia can be better undertaken within its mainstream Department of Health.
The NRHA is concerned about an obvious weakening of commitments in the health area that were initially made through the Council of Australian Governments. Of particular concern is the decision not to proceed immediately with the new National Partnership Agreement with the States and Territories which would have seen significant extra funds for adult oral health.
It will be critical that the new Health Productivity and Performance Commission retains a strong focus on analysing health system performance by remoteness, and the NRHA looks forward to working with the new agency towards that end.