Delegates call for urgent action to bridge rural healthcare gaps

  •  Stan Grant
    Stan Grant. [Image: Yme Tulleners - Kirkland Photography]
  • Rabia Siddique
    Rabia Siddique. [Image: Yme Tulleners - Kirkland Photography]
  • Dr Keith Suter
    Dr Keith Suter. [Image: Yme Tulleners - Kirkland Photography]
  • Dr Justin Yeung
    Dr Justin Yeung. [Image: Yme Tulleners - Kirkland Photography]
  • Dr Margaret Garde,  Associate Professor Lara Fuller, Christine Giles
    Dr Margaret Garde, Associate Professor Lara Fuller, Christine Giles. [Image: Yme Tulleners - Kirkland Photography]
  • National Rural Health Alliance Deputy Chair, Dr Stephen Gourley,
    National Rural Health Alliance Deputy Chair, Dr Stephen Gourley. [Image: Yme Tulleners - Kirkland Photography]
  • National Rural Health Alliance CEO, Dr Gabrielle O’Kane
    National Rural Health Alliance CEO, Dr Gabrielle O’Kane. [Image: Yme Tulleners - Kirkland Photography]

Bridging social distance was the theme of the recently concluded 16th National Rural Health Conference, that focused on rural health innovation and collaboration to address the pressing issue of healthcare accessibility and disparities in health outcomes in rural and remote Australia.

Hosted by the National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) in Brisbane on 2–4 August 2022, the Conference saw over 700 delegates from the national and international health sector engaging in discussions on enabling better health services and facilities for people in rural Australia.

Keynote speakers of the calibre of Stan Grant, Rabia Siddique, Dr Keith Suter, Dr Justin Yeung and Christine Giles, inspired the audience with their powerful presentations.

The concurrent sessions dealt with a range of topics, from the impact of climate on health in rural communities, to challenges and solutions in the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals, cultural sensitivity, healthcare innovation and digital health, rural health research, training pathways and various models for improving access to health care in rural Australia.

Women’s health and wellbeing was an integral part of the discussions, given that one-third of Australian women live in rural and regional areas

Delegates discussed innovative solutions to reduce stillbirth, which is most prevalent in rural Australia, and how a maternity services mapping project is providing information on where services are needed the most. Discussions also focused on factors influencing the management of unintended pregnancies, disparity in access to medical abortion in rural areas and breast cancer recovery.

Delegates had the opportunity to share their ideas at the Alliance exhibition booth where they provided feedback in response to a series of questions, including on their motivations for working rurally, ideas for improving rural health outcomes, and what they would recommend in terms of action to governments.

The Alliance Deputy Chair, Dr Stephen Gourley, said the overarching theme of the feedback was that ‘rural and remote communities are not just smaller urban communities but require different models of care and funding’.

‘The Alliance has two key policy platforms: a new National Rural Health Strategy and the Rural Area Community Controlled Health Organisation model,’ said the Alliance’s outgoing Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Gabrielle O’Kane, in her keynote presentation, which included a video on the model.

‘Local community leadership and co-design, block funding and secure models of employment are core components of the Rural Area Community Controlled Health Organisation model and key to improving access to multidisciplinary primary health care in rural areas. We urge policymakers to take action,’ she said.

She added: ‘It is important to link a new National Rural Health Strategy to an implementation plan with clear measures to evaluate its effectiveness.’

With the conference wrap-up, Dr O’Kane leaves the National Rural Health Alliance for retirement after a stint of three years as CEO.

You can view the conference program and proceedings, media reports and photos, as well as videos of keynote presentations on the 16th National Rural Health Conference website.

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