With the closure of the Rural Health Education Foundation (the Foundation), health practitioners and consumers in remote areas will no longer have their regular stream of up-to-date information available via the Rural Health TV Channel. Unless some other agency takes the Foundation’s place, Channel 600 on the free-to-view Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) network will no longer be dedicated to rural and remote health. And there will be a huge gap in the production of valuable online and DVD resources to assist the continuing professional development of health workers and service managers in more remote areas.
Tim Kelly, Chairperson of the National Rural Health Alliance, described the closure of the Foundation as a major setback for wellbeing in more remote areas. "People in remote areas are well-known for their resilience and this is another poke in the eye they will have to get over. In the decisions it makes about tax and spending in the May Budget, it is to be hoped that the Abbott Government will allow for the special challenges of community life and businesses in remote areas."
The Foundation has provided a terrific service to more isolated communities for nearly twenty years, based initially on fortnightly broadcasts to over 650 sites and more recently via the free-to-air Rural Health TV Channel, available to those with limited or no access to broadband. Their live interactive broadcasts dealt with topics like dementia, men’s health, cancer and autism and were also available on DVD and by free webstreaming, making the information widely available on demand. The scale of the Foundation’s activities is illustrated by the fact that 15,000-18,000 DVDs of its programs have been distributed upon request across Australia each year.
However financial support for the programs from government and the private sector has been dwindling over the past 18 months. The Alliance will do whatever it can to make sure that the Foundation’s resources remain available for as long as they are useful.
"Despite the fiscal pressures we're all aware of, Australia is still an affluent nation. We need to ask ourselves why it is that government and business cannot see their way to supporting effective measures for more remote areas to ensure they have fair access to information, including what's needed for the support and development of professionals working in those areas," Tim Kelly said.
"The Alliance will re-commit itself to doing everything it can to help overcome what might be called 'the information divide'," he said. "It would help if there was stronger community acceptance of the major contributions made to Australia by communities and business enterprises in remote areas, and of the disadvantages they experience if the provision of services in those places is based only on what yields a profit or is commercial."
The closure of the Rural Health Education Foundation leaves a big gap in communications and information in remote Australia. The Coalition hopefully understands the seriousness of this and will move to close the gap through support for cross-subsidies from city to remote areas in key functional areas such as education, telecommunications, transport infrastructure and health services.
Contact: Tim Kelly – Chairperson: 0438 011 383