The Federal Government has committed to increasing the recruitment and training of allied health professionals to service remote and rural communities in Australia.
Health Minister, Greg Hunt, told a National Rural Health Alliance and Parliamentary Friends of Rural and Remote Health MPs’ Forum that the Government has plans to the expand the Stronger Rural Health Strategy announced in the May 2018 budget to include the recruitment and training of desperately needed allied health professionals in rural areas.
The issue of poor access to health care services and the availability of a well distributed and appropriately skilled workforce in rural and remote Australia were key issues raised at the MPs’ Rural Health Forum at Parliament House.
The panel forum was conducted by the National Rural Health Alliance and hosted by Patrons of the Parliamentary Friends of the Remote and Rural Health, Warren Entsch and Warren Snowdon. The panel comprised Health Minister, Greg Hunt, Aged Care and Indigenous Health Minister, Ken Wyatt, Opposition Rural Health spokesman, Tony Zappia, and Australian Greens leader, Senator Richard di Natale.
The aim of the Forum was to gain an insight into the major parties’ policy positions on a range of rural health issues and the solutions proposed by the Alliance to improve the availability and access to health services for people in rural, regional and remote Australia.
It was attended by Federal MPs, their staff, Alliance Board and Council members, and other stakeholders, including those involved directly in rural health as well as others with an interest in the health and wellbeing of the seven million people who live outside our metropolitan cities and major urban centres.
Topics raised by the panellists included:
• the need for long term government health policy that goes beyond the usual three year political cycle to enable long term system changes to have effect;
• the premature abolishment of Health Workforce Australia;
• telehealth and telemedicine are potential game changers that could improve access to health care in remote areas but should not be seen as the silver bullet to fix all of the complex health issues in rural and remote health. It should be one of a suite of measures;
• research is needed to develop service models that work, which should be developed in the regions by the regions;
• research should also be used to inform health policy, not sit on the shelf;
• challenges in the rural health workforce are mirrored in the aged care and disability workforce. There must be an integrated view of all sectors to address the gaps and reduce fragmentation; and
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be encouraged to work in their communities as they already have the necessary cultural insights into their own communities.
National Rural Health Alliance Chair, Tanya Lehmann, said the Forum showed a common purpose across all political parties to improve the access to and delivery of health services to rural and remote communities.
“We know that people living in remote and very remote areas access health services through the Medical Benefit Schedule at half the rate of their city cousins”, Tanya said.
“This is in part due to the fact there is only half of the workforce available out there to provide the care that people need, when they need it.
“Australia’s rural communities cover a broad span of sectors and activity and, with a population of some seven million people, rural Australia is an economic powerhouse for the nation that deserves better health services.
“It is good to see all parties committed to finding ways to work in the same direction to provide solutions to such an important social, economic and health challenge, and not trying to attack one another on a political agenda.
“We appreciate the comments of all the panellists and certainly note Minister Hunt’s commitment to improving the supply of allied health workers and services to regional Australia.”
Tanya said the National Rural Health Alliance will take the parties’ comments to its 15th National Rural Health Conference in Hobart on 24 to 27 March as a basis for development of the rural health sector’s Federal election “asks”.