The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Regional Telecommunications Review 2021. The Alliance represents 43 member organisations (see Attachment A) encompassing healthcare and allied health professionals, health service and educational providers and consumers, located in or servicing rural, regional and remote (rural) Australia. The Alliance is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of Australians living in rural and remote communities.
Access to reliable and affordable telecommunications infrastructure is crucial to the economic prosperity and wellbeing of Australians living in rural communities. Further, it is apparent, now more than ever, that connectedness is critical to the accessibility and delivery of individualised and comprehensive healthcare solutions throughout the country. Indeed, the rollout and extension of telehealth services and rebates, following COVID-19-related restrictions on movement, underscores the importance of digital solutions in overcoming the combined effects of health crises and physical isolation. Connectivity, reliability, accessibility, affordability and digital health literacy remain ongoing barriers to enabling rural communities’ participation in digital health activities. Investment in telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas is known to have the capacity to improve access to health care. However, whether these improvements are actualised is intricately linked to issues around service suitability, reliability and affordability. On these measures, rural Australians continue to face significant disadvantage. Considering these factors, it is unsurprising that rural Australians are overall less digitally connected and more heavily reliant on outdated technologies.