Rural Health in Focus at MPs’ Forum

08 February 2019

The plight of rural and remote communities and their access to health services will be the focus of a Federal MPs’ rural health forum to be conducted in Parliament before a panel comprising Federal Government health ministers, Opposition spokespeople and the Australian Greens leader.

The panel forum is being conducted by the National Rural Health Alliance and hosted by Patrons of the Parliamentary Friends of the Alliance, the Hon Warren Entsch and the Hon Warren Snowdon. The panel comprises Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt, Aged Care and Indigenous Health Minister, the Hon Ken Wyatt, Opposition Rural Health spokesman, Tony Zappia, and Australian Greens leader, Senator Richard di Natale.

Topics to be highlighted include:

  • Workforce: Ensuring a properly trained and equitably distributed rural health workforce. Lack of access to timely, affordable and appropriate health care accounts for more than 20% of the reason people in country areas experience poorer health outcomes;
  • Allied Health Services: The Government has recently announced $33.5 m over 4 years to enable telehealth consultations for general GP consults for people living in remote and very remote Australia. But there is still needs to be similar funding for all recognised Medicare services such as  those provided by optometrists, physiotherapists, audiologists, occupational therapists,  dietitians, podiatrists, Aboriginal Health Workers and speech pathologists among other health professions;
  • Fragmentation of service delivery: The different funding models for delivery of health services makes it difficult to create well co-ordinated and integrated primary health care services that are ‘fit for purpose’ in meeting the needs of local communities and community catchments;
  • Research: While there is a large-scale investment in health research, neither the Medical Research Future Fund (soon to be $20 billion in pooled funds) nor the National Health and Medical Research Council have a priority set for rural health research. In 2016, only 2.4% of the total research dollar was directed towards rural health, despite the fact some 28% of Australians live in rural, regional and remote areas.

National Rural Health Alliance CEO, Mark Diamond, said the Forum provided an opportunity for Federal MPs, their staff and rural health stakeholders to hear from the major parties on these vital health issues and their thoughts on how to improve health outcomes for people living in rural, regional and remote Australia.

“We look forward to hearing the views of the panelists at the Forum and to glean which parties are committed to ensuring rural and remote communities in Australia can gain access to and benefit from the delivery of health services to the same extent as people living in metropolitan areas,” Mr Diamond said.

“We believe the commitment is there but it needs to be backed up with programs and funding that ensure rural communities – which are one of the generators of the Australian economy on many different fronts – can receive timely and appropriate health care.”

The Federal MPs’ Rural Health Forum will be held at the Parliament House Theatre from 10.30am to 11.30am on Wednesday 13 February.

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Allan Yates
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