Rural health budget boost

12 May 2021

The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) says there are many positive Federal Budget initiatives with attached funding of more than $4b that will go towards strengthening the rural workforce and health system.

“The government has made several funding announcements that will help alleviate the dire state of rural workforce shortages, including an injection of $65.8 million to effectively give GPs a financial incentive to live and work in more rural and remote communities,” said Alliance CEO Gabrielle O’Kane.

“It is constructive to see even broader workforce incentives, such as the $29.5 million to increase non-GP medical specialist training in areas facing workforce shortages and expanding the Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway in regional and rural Australia.

“In another initiative, there are new MBS items for allied health professionals who participate in case conferences which are organised by a patient's GP. This $13.7m is particularly positive because it will promote allied health participation in multidisciplinary, coordinated care for patients with chronic and complex diseases.

“This is a move in the right direction for establishing integrated, community-based healthcare solutions that can identify and meet local rural health needs.

“The Alliance has advocated for trials of alternative models of health care and funding, so it is positive to see a continuation of trials of local approaches to innovative rural health models,” Ms O’Kane said.

To improve health technology and digital access there have been several announcements this week, including $130 m for improving connectivity and the investment of $204 m for the extension of telehealth MBS services.

“For the rural health workforce, good digital connectivity is a fundamental requirement for providing quality and reliable services to people across our vast rural and remote areas, and it would be sensible policy that effective tools like telehealth – which has been lifesaving during COVID-19 – are embedded in our rural health system permanently.

“The Alliance is pleased to see $79 m for culturally-appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health services, including suicide prevention services, networks and a 24/7 suicide crisis line. The Government’s Aged Care announcements will also see expanded services for First Nations people and those in rural and remote locations, or who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Ms O’Kane said.