Rural and remote Australians face many challenges in accessing health care. The lack of adequate health services – for numerous reasons, including geographic isolation and maldistribution of the healthcare workforce – has led to a dire need for innovative models of care that address the unique circumstances of this population.
The contribution of Australia’s rural population to the country’s economy cannot be stressed enough. People in rural, regional and remote Australia make up 30 per cent of the population and rural industries generate almost $500 billion in export earnings each year. Resources and rural industries alone make up around 80 per cent of Australia’s exports and this does not take into account the extra contribution of rural-based services and manufacturing. Our farmers produce about $60 billion worth of goods each year and the agriculture supply chain supports 1.6 million jobs.
Yet, despite the significant contribution of the rural population to Australia’s economy, they face the greatest challenges in accessing quality health care. In fact, per capita, rural areas have up to 50 per cent fewer health providers than major cities. Limited access to health services also means life expectancy of the rural population is lower. Even with this concerning data, there is a heavy underspend on health services in rural Australia. The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) has estimated that this rural health expenditure deficit is $4 billion every year.
Therefore, it is vital to think outside the box and be innovative and bold in finding tailor-made solutions to the problems faced by rural populations in accessing health care. These solutions need to be found in partnership with the grassroots community to ensure the design of models of care that fit their unique needs.
The Alliance steadfastly advocates for sustainability of healthcare delivery within rural settings and the use of evidence-based solutions to attract and retain a rural health workforce. In this issue, our policy director explains the new model of primary care funding and service delivery envisaged by the Alliance – Primary care Rural Integrated Multidisciplinary Health Services (PRIM-HS). This model will support and sustain the healthcare workforce in the provision of essential primary care to rural communities.
It is pleasing to see the large number of contributions in this issue from the health sector across Australia, responding enthusiastically to our call to share innovative ideas and strategies to attract, train, retain and support the health workforce in rural locations.
Contributions from the Attract Connect Stay Project, Lower Eyre Health Advisory Council and Bendigo Health’s STAY Project, speak about new ways to address workforce maldistribution, including multidisciplinary care models. The Collaborative Care Program outlines a model of care developed across four small communities in Western New South Wales to ensure the sustainability of primary care and the ability to better provide health services for patients into the future.
As always, we value thoughtful contributions from our Members. The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association highlights the key role of vocational training and calls for ‘effective collaboration between parties … to act as a source of intelligence on issues affecting the industry’. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists explains how their new training project is helping to narrow the gap in access to maternity services. Royal Far West and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia also offer innovative ideas for sustainable service models.
We have inspiring stories on students of the health professions, about positive clinical placements that will help to build the future rural health workforce. Medical student Xanthie Volckmar shares the wonderful story of how she found inspiration from the doctors she shadowed, who broadened her perspective of rural medicine, general practice and Aboriginal health. Enjoy more inspiration in this issue including Michael Leach’s original poem and contributions from the Australian Society of Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy, Flinders Rural and Remote Health NT, and Curtin Medical School, to name a few. Another of our Members – the National Rural Health Student Network – offers a unique perspective on rural placement.
We have contributions about unique initiatives for First Nations peoples from SMS4DeadlyDads, the University of Queensland, Charles Darwin University and Mallee District Aboriginal Services. We also share the inspirational story of Sarah Goddard who became the Indigenous Doctor of the Year at the 2022 Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association annual awards.
This issue also carries information about resources available to help health professionals support their patients – across all ages and from reproductive health to palliative care – and technology that provides flexibility and support for the rural health workforce. Extended assistance is also explored through articles on outreach, support groups, telehealth, locums and mobile health. Other contributions discuss support for primary care from various sectors of the workforce with flexible models of care that allow working to the full scope of practice.
We appreciate contributions such as those from the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, Aged Care Research and Industry Innovation Australia, Rural Health West and Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria that inform readers about grants and funding to translate research into innovative and practical solutions and scholarships that provide important financial support.
We trust that this issue will provide you with food for thought, and material for discussion and exploration of new ideas. We hope it may motivate the development and support of innovative solutions that attract and retain the health workforce in rural Australia – to bring equitable outcomes for the 30 per cent of the population that still awaits a healthier future.
Thank you to our Members, Friends and strategic partners, as well as all other contributors and advertisers, for your support of Partyline and, above all, healthy and sustainable rural, regional and remote communities across Australia.
We sincerely hope you enjoy reading this issue!