Rural health election priorities 2022

13 April 2022

Bold reform is vital to achieve equitable health outcomes
for rural, regional and remote communities

The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) is calling on all political parties to commit to bold health-system change to enable people in rural, regional and remote communities to achieve equitable health outcomes.

The Alliance is highlighting the most critical priorities for rural health that warrant discussion in the 2022 federal election campaign.

“Only by changing the structure of rural health, will communities have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare services, and give rural health consumers the opportunity for equitable health outcomes,” said Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane.

The Alliance – comprising 42 health professional bodies and service providers – is endorsing a model of primary health care called RACCHOs (Rural Area Community Controlled Health Organisations). RACCHO’s complement the more than 300 ACCHOs (Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations) providing holistic, comprehensive and ‘culturally competent’ primary health care across Australia.

“Being driven, co-designed and governed by local communities, RACCHOs are designed to be sustainable within rural settings. Underpinning their sustainability is government block funding – the same model currently used in rural hospitals. Through RACCHOs, communities can then access Medicare and PBS rebates and NDIS funding.

“RACCHOs support recruitment and retention of health professionals across the spectrum of health disciplines by giving them guaranteed income and allowing them to reach their full scope of practice,” Dr O’Kane said.

The Alliance’s highest election priority, therefore, is proposing the funding and rollout of 30 RACCHOs, starting in 2022, to improve access to affordable, high-quality health care, where and when it is needed.

“This reform urgently needs strong political backing to stop the spiral of workforce maldistribution and service denigration and gaps, which is the experience of many communities around the country,” Dr O’Kane said.

Dr O’Kane says that to drive reform, a contemporary and wide-ranging National Rural Health Strategy is required – the Alliance’s second election priority.

“All health disciplines and all jurisdictions need to be working together through a holistic strategy, recognising that people in rural communities have shorter lives and higher levels of disease and injury than those living in metropolitan areas. Rural communities also bear the brunt of increasingly catastrophic impacts from climate change, and generally face greater risk of their health being negatively impacted.             

“A new National Rural Health Strategy is needed to respond to the significant health challenges caused by bushfires, drought, temperature extremes and other weather events. Likewise, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that the National Rural Health Strategy needs to incorporate health experts in emergency and disaster planning to protect rural, regional and remote communities,” Dr O’Kane said.