Editorial: Our unprecedented year leading to step-change in rural health

  • Sunset over grassy hill

Bellthorpe Farm. "After months of little or no rain the farms turn from green to brown. Then at last the rain came and the recovery started. The browns turned to green and the sunsets were beautiful." Photo: Paul Mellick. NRHA Friends Photo & Poetry Competition finalist.

Gabrielle O'Kane
National Rural Health Alliance
Gabrielle O'Kane,
Chief Executive Officer

It is impossible not be upbeat talking about the weather as we head into summer 2020 given our world is so vastly different from 12 months ago. The drought and unprecedented bushfires sapped energy and livelihoods yet were only the precursor to the health emergency we have all endured.

Now, with some rain throughout winter and spring, more favourable conditions have put hard-earned smiles on the faces of farmers, cropping folk and local communities. I have a strong sense of gratitude that the seasons are improving.

I also sense something of a positive shift in our Australian way of life, despite the health crisis and unfortunate deaths from COVID-19. It seems the nation’s experience of the ‘iso’ lifestyle has been somewhat unifying for city and bush as we all focused on our immediate surrounds while bolstering our digital connection.

For better and for worse, the human distancing required to manage the pandemic has changed our health systems forever, including our rural health infrastructure and service delivery. For example, there is no doubt that the shift to telehealth will have ongoing benefits for those living rurally, provided we ensure that rural communities have the choice to see their health care professionals face-to-face or via telehealth.

We find ourselves in the midst of a major paradigm shift in how we plan, structure and implement rural health services. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the Alliance and its members to make our rural, regional and remote communities healthier and more sustainable.

At the Alliance we envisage a more integrated and adaptable rural health system underpinned by the closer working relationship across all governments as a consequence of the pandemic.

In this edition of Partyline we are focusing on prevention, early intervention, and innovation in primary care. Creating healthy rural communities requires more than a focus on illness – it must also encompass primary and secondary prevention. This includes interventions that address chronic disease or the socio-ecological determinants of health or increase health literacy.

The Alliance is also interested in discovering and sharing new and innovative ways that health professionals are organising their primary care services to offer more coordinated, multidisciplinary care and continuity of care to better meet the needs of their communities.

As always, it is great to have Partyline contributions from Friends of the Alliance – our thanks to Flinders University, Allied Health Professions Australia, James Cook University, Rural Health West, Monash University, Royal Flying Doctors Service, Australian Indigenous HealthInfonet and Heart Support Australia.

Thanks also to our advertisers who support Partyline – in this issue Roche, Radiometer and HESTA. If you are interested in advertising in Partyline, or contributing to a future issue, please get in touch at [email protected].

As this is the final Partyline for 2020, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all rural families, friends and connections best regards for the close of this extraordinarily challenging year.

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