Pre-budget submission aims for a more connected rural Australia

19 February 2020

The National Rural Health Alliance, the peak body for rural and remote health in Australia, today released its 2020-21 pre-budget submission.

The submission puts forward two proposals: a plan to create innovative place-based health and wellbeing networks in six rural Australian towns, and the Rural Digital Health Initiative, a suite of measures that will improve digital health literacy, connectivity, and awareness and participation in digital health services.

“Our pre-budget submission contains two proposals that are all about making health care in rural Australia more connected and working better for consumers and professionals,” said Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane.

“We’re especially pleased to put forward this exciting $15.5 million proposal for a trial of place-based health and wellbeing networks. If funded, this proposal will transform health care in six rural Australian towns. And it can easily be scaled up and expanded to cover more locations in the future.

“Place-based health and wellbeing networks involve, where possible, co-located health services with other social and community services, operating under a pooled funding model which will make it easier to attract and retain health professionals.

“People will be able to access place-based allied health services, while also being connected to their GP, their medical specialists, and social and community services, such as Anglicare and Centrelink, all within a region or town. The initiative aims to address workforce shortages that exist owing to inappropriate funding mechanisms for allied health professionals, in thin market contexts. If more health professionals can be recruited and retained in rural areas, multidisciplinary teams will be more effective and care will be better integrated across the health system. Ultimately, these measures will mean better health outcomes for people in the trial sites.”

Dr O’Kane said that digital health was also a key priority for the Alliance, which is why this pre-budget submission contains five measures that together make up the $13.6 million Rural Digital Health Initiative.

“We know that connectivity, reliability, accessibility, affordability, and digital health literacy are ongoing barriers to rural communities accessing digital health services,” said Dr O’Kane. “That’s why the Alliance has put forward some innovative solutions to help address these issues.”

“The first part of the Rural Digital Health Initiative involves funding for rural, regional and remote health services to purchase digital health infrastructure. These costs are a big barrier for many health services – sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The Rural Digital Health Initiative also contains measures to improve digital health literacy among consumers, as well as a scholarship and bursary program for health professionals in rural Australia to help them develop skills and knowledge in digital health technology.

“We hope to see both of these important projects funded so that we can work together with the Federal Government genuinely improve health outcomes for people in rural, regional and remote Australia.”

The pre-budget submission can be viewed here.