The challenges facing rural health – with a new Government

  • Parliament House
Kim Webber and Alexis Mohay
National Rural Health Alliance

The National Rural Health Alliance’s Vote1RuralHealth election campaign was focussed on shining a light on the difficulties rural and remote Australians have in accessing health services. We partnered with Australian Regional Media on the ‘Fair Go’ campaign which ran in newspapers across New South Wales and Queensland and covered issues such as mental health and cancer care.

We also distilled some of our research and policy work into easy to read infographics on the rural Medicare underspend, rural mental health and remote health.  

Our key messages focussed on the raising awareness of what we have known for a long time.

Risk factors for poor health, such as smoking and obesity, are higher in rural remote Australia. These factors are proven to contribute to ill health and the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, amongst others.

More people in rural remote areas are living with disease when compared with those living in the city.

The death rates due to diabetes, suicide, lung disease and heart disease are significantly higher in rural and remote Australia.

People in rural remote Australia die years earlier than people in metropolitan areas.

However, with investment similar to that city dwellers receive and flexibility to implement services to suit the rural and remote context, we can make a difference to the health and lives of rural and remote Australians.

The Alliance’s key messages are now a platform for our engagement with the newly elected Coalition Government. It is clear that health issues are still top of mind for rural and remote Australians. The Alliance aims to ensure that the Government implements its campaign promises to support rural and remote health care.  

The Coalition has appointed Dr David Gillespie as Assistant Minister for Rural Health. Dr Gillespie is a medical practitioner with experience in providing health care in rural and remote Australia, having worked at hospitals in Orange and Dubbo. He is therefore well placed to understand rural and remote health and really make a difference in his new role.

The Coalition committed to appointing a Rural Health Commissioner. This key leadership role will be responsible for driving reform to improve rural and remote health in Australia. One of the first roles of the Commissioner will be to develop a National Rural Generalist Pathway to support training of doctors with skills in rural and remote medicine. The Alliance will support the Rural Health Commissioner in this important work.

Health Care Homes, announced as part of the 2016 Budget, will offer an innovative new approach to the provision of healthcare to patients with chronic and complex conditions. A trial of up to 200 Health Care Homes will offer services to up to 65,000 people with chronic and complex conditions across seven Primary Care Networks. Services will commence in July 2017.

The Health Care Homes will include general practices and Aboriginal Medical Services (AMSs). Payments for the ongoing coordination and management of patients will be made to the practices and AMSs by accessing the equivalent total value of Medicare rebates. This will enable the practices and AMSs to utilise funding in more flexible ways to meet the needs of their patients.  

The Alliance is working with the Department of Health to ensure that there is appropriate representation of rural and remote practices and AMSs, and therefore patients, among the trial sites.

We look forward to working with the relevant Ministers and the Department of Health to improve the health and wellbeing of rural and remote Australians. 


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