The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) sees the Federal Budget 2023–24 as a missed opportunity to significantly address healthcare needs in rural Australia. This is despite the major contribution by rural communities to Australia’s economic surplus this year and their poor health status, which is below that of their urban counterparts.
“While there are some modest measures included to improve healthcare access, this is not a Budget that will provide rural health improvements – which is disappointing,” said Alliance Chief Executive Susanne Tegen.
“The Alliance notes that the Budget gives overarching measures for healthcare service delivery, however many are not rural specific.
“The Alliance looks forward to being involved in and informing the new regional development forum for Australian Government agencies. We hope it will increase rural health stakeholders’ regular engagement with the Government, to better inform decisions about rural healthcare within the Developing the Regional Investment Framework outlined in the Budget,” said Ms Tegen.
The Alliance is well placed to support the Government’s work within the Framework’s four key priority areas – investing in services, people, places and industry – to support regional development. It should be recognised, however, that without healthy individuals, the economy cannot keep delivering such healthy returns for the whole of Australia.
“We welcome the Government’s bulk billing incentive, which is an Australia-wide initiative with some additional support for those GPs in remote regions who bulk bill. This incentive should assist clinicians with some of the additional costs that the tyranny of distance and challenge of servicing remote Australia bring.
“However, the initiative still does not address the severe workforce shortage and subsequent long waiting lists for access to health services faced by rural Australians.
“There is also a modest extension to the single-employer trial for GP registrars, allowing them to deliver services in several community-based medical practices without losing benefits as they move between employers,” said Ms Tegen.
The new MyMedicare voluntary enrolment scheme aims to ensure access to longer telehealth services, informed by learnings from other countries. The Alliance will await the details to ensure rural Australians can still access the care they require and not endure further barriers to equitable health care.
Telehealth is an important element of the services provided to increase patient access to GPs. The Alliance seeks to ensure that rural patients have access to affordable and flexible care delivered by their rural GPs. However, an adequate medical workforce is required for this to take place.
“We support and applaud the Indigenous preventive health initiatives, including free annual health checks, national expansion of the Deadly Choices program, extending the Tackling Indigenous Smoking initiative to include vaping, culturally appropriate knowledge and skills support to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies, as well as early treatment through the new national lung cancer screening program.
“These are important measures as rates of daily smoking in First Nations Australians increase significantly with remoteness, from 30.1 per cent in major cities to 52.3 per cent in very remote areas.
“There are also some welcome but modest measures for multidisciplinary work opportunities, which incentivises nurse practitioners, midwives and allied health workers.
“However, there is still work to do beyond tinkering around the edges. Further reform is needed to support the 30 per cent of the population who live outside urban centres.
“The Alliance is disappointed that significant reform of rural health care has still not been tackled, with these modest Budget measures failing to address major medical and health workforce inequities. These measures also do not allow for the innovative community-led models of multidisciplinary primary health care that are desperately needed in rural areas.
“These same communities provide over 90 per cent of the food on our tables and the majority of Australia’s national income. They deserve better.” said Ms Tegen.
Please see more details in the Alliance’s 2023–24 Pre-Budget Submission