The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) welcomes the inclusion of its recommendations in the report from the Senate inquiry into universal access to reproductive health care, which calls to end the postcode lottery for reproductive health care.
The report, published on 25 May 2023, incorporates input from the Alliance about rural access to reproductive health care, citing our submission and further evidence and testimony presented to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee on 28 February 2023.
The following recommendations in the report quote the Alliance:
- The committee recommends that the Australian, state, and territory governments ensure that maternity care services, including birthing services, in non-metropolitan public hospitals are available and accessible for all pregnant women at the time they require them. This is particularly important for women in rural and regional areas.
- The committee recommends that the Australian Government works with the sector to increase birthing on country initiatives and other culturally appropriate continuity of care models.
- The committee recommends that all public hospitals within Australia be equipped to provide surgical pregnancy terminations, or timely and affordable pathways to other local providers. This will improve equality of access, particularly in rural and regional areas and provide workforce development opportunities.
- The committee recommends that the Australian Government develops an implementation plan for the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020–2030 with annual reporting against key measures of success. This could include establishing a taskforce as part of the implementation plan.
The Alliance further welcomes the recognition that:
Rural and remote women are also more likely to experience domestic and family violence, and have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, infant mortalities, and low birthweights and preterm babies … these rates also increase with remoteness—an outcome which was thought to be associated with poorer access to health services.
“We also welcome the committee recognising the difficulties faced in accessing the continuum of sexual and reproductive health care in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia, including maternity care, contraceptives and termination of pregnancy,” said Alliance Chief Executive Susi Tegen.
“We are pleased that the committee has recognised cost as a barrier to accessing contraceptive care and inadequate remuneration of health professionals as a barrier to providing contraceptive care, especially in rural, regional and remote locations.
“It also recognises the need for enhanced training and professional support of health professionals in sexual and reproductive health care and the need to support all members of the healthcare team to work to their full scope of practice in sexual and reproductive health care.
“The report supports the provision of Birthing on Country maternity services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
“We welcome the recognition of the importance of developing specific strategies to support the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women with a disability, people who identify as LGBTIQ+ and women from a CALD background, as well as the importance of developing a tangible implementation plan for the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020–2030, which is also reported against,” said Ms Tegen.
“It is imperative to have this focus on the needs of rural, regional and remote women and girls,” she added.