2. Improve access to healthcare, especially by funding more allied health professionals into rural Australia

Commit the resources necessary to ensure that people in rural areas have the same level of access to healthcare as those living elsewhere.

We seek a commitment from an incoming government to:

  1. Fund an additional 3000 allied health positions ($300m over 4 years)
  2. Fund 20 rural and remote demonstration sites across the nation, comprising clusters of rural communities, where a workforce is matched with the health needs of each, then evaluate these for improvements in service access and health outcomes over a sustained period. These demonstration sites then inform the development of service models best suited to meeting the needs of local communities. ($50m over 4 years)
  3. Establish a community grants program to ensure people in rural and remote areas have reliable, continuous access to digital infrastructure and technologies capable of supporting telehealth, tele-medicine, tele-rehabilitation and tele-monitoring. ($400m over 4 years)
  4. Provide Medicare rebates to GPs and other health professionals for telehealth consults to outer regional, remote and very remote areas. ($420m over 4 years & $180m/year thereafter)

Rationale

  1. Achieving equivalent levels of access to healthcare as occurs in metropolitan areas, means expanding the allied health workforce in rural, regional and remote areas and supporting its capacity to provide services into outer regional, remote and very remote in particular. The current government’s $550m Stronger Rural Health Strategy in the 2018 Federal Budget committed funding for 3000 additional doctors and 3000 additional nurses over 10 years. Complete health care also requires other health care professionals such as physiotherapists, psychologists, audiologists, optometrists, osteopaths, podiatrists, speech pathologists and social workers. Funds are urgently needed to incentivise these professions to work in rural, regional and remote areas where they are in undersupply in the same way as GPs are incentivised to practise in these areas.
  2. Improve access to healthcare through the development and adoption of workforce service models that are fit for purpose in rural and remote areas and that deliver timely, appropriate and affordable health care to local communities. We need to explore the best, most effective ways to set up and sustain health workforces in rural and remote areas and one size does not fit all places. These demonstration sites would identify the sorts of service models that work well.
  3. A 2016 study* identified that of 400 Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, 80% did not have access to a 3G or 4G mobile phone signal. The $160m mobile black spot program funding boost in the 2019 Federal Budget is less than half the $380m initially allocated and yet there is so much more to do. Hybrid technological solutions will be required where mobile towers don’t provide high bandwidth. An additional $400m will target communities that are particularly difficult to connect to the network but for which the return on investment in terms of improved health outcomes is substantial.A Rural Telecommunications for Health Fund should be established to distribute these funds via grants sought by consumers and communities.
  4. The nation’s worst health outcomes are in remote and very remote areas where communities often have no access to GPs, nursing or allied health professionals. However with advances in web connectivity, the 500,000 people living in remote and very remote areas where the web is connected and works well, could consult allied health professionals online. Making Medicare rebates available for allied health professionals and doctors providing online consults to these and outer regional areas would offer another way to ensure people who live there have access to a more complete range of health services.

 

 

* The Northern Territory Homelands and Outstations Assets and Access Review (CAT, 2016) www.icat.org.au surveyed 401 Indigenous Homelands and Outstations in the NT (population 10,000).

 

 

The Charter | Improve Indigenous health | Improve access to healthcare, especially by funding more allied health professionals into rural Australia | Expand the health research capacity of rural Australia | Create a new National Rural Health Strategy | National Rural Health Alliance - Member Body Organisations