Submission – Inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote New South Wales

15 January 2021

The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) welcomes the opportunity to present a submission to the Parliament of New South Wales Portfolio Committee No. 2 - Health inquiry, Health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote New South Wales.

The Alliance comprises 44 national member organisations and is focused on improving the health and wellbeing of the 7 million people residing outside our major cities. Our members include health consumers, health care professionals, service providers, health educators, students, and the Indigenous health sector. Well-rounded representation of the rural health sector enables us to work toward our vision of ‘healthy and sustainable rural, regional and remote communities’.

Looking back on 2020, it was an extremely difficult year for health and hospital services across the country. Within NSW, these struggles were magnified by the extent of the summer bushfires across the State as well as by the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Turning our focus to rural, regional and remote parts of the State, access to health services is worse than in its major cities. This leaves these communities vulnerable to another wave of the pandemic, which could further increase the inequity in their health outcomes.

In 2014, the NSW Government released its ‘NSW Rural Health Plan: Towards 2021’, which “aims to strengthen the capacity of rural health services to provide world class connected and seamless care for people living in regional, rural and remote NSW.” Now that we are in 2021, it is vital that we take stock.

Recent media reports have highlighted examples of inappropriate clinical decision making and support, inadequate staffing and lack of availability to essential medicines for patients in regional and remote areas of NSW. This submission will examine the continued significant disparities in the health outcomes of rural people compared to their counterparts in major cities. The reality is that when viewed over the long term, there is no evidence of these disparities improving over time.

The disparities in current and expected health outcomes and access for patients in rural, regional and remote NSW are persistent, and the Alliance views this situation as unacceptable. Health equity is a right that cannot be dismissed for these communities, and every effort needs to be made to achieve equitable outcomes.