Improving rural health outcomes a priority for RACS

  • 29% of Australians live in rural areas. Only 12% of surgeons live and work in rural areas.
  • 18% of urban specialists provide intermittent rural outreach services. In five of the nine specialists less than five per cent of surgeons are based outside of cities.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) believes that people who live in rural areas need access to safe surgery as close to home as possible. Health equity is an integral part of surgical care.

There are numerous opportunities for growth and development in our rural and remote settings and we want to see more surgeons working in these areas.

‘The Australian Medical Council gives us approval to train surgeons for excellence and to address community need, but there can be no excellence if 30 per cent of the population aren’t getting access to surgical care or are getting delayed access leading to poorer outcomes. There is no excellence unless we are focused on what communities need,’ said Dr Bridget Clancy, Vice Chair of the Rural Health Equity Steering Committee and Chair of the Rural Surgery Section.

One of the biggest priorities for RACS in 2022 is the implementation of our Rural Health Equity Strategy (the Strategy).

‘About 29 per cent of Australians live in rural and remote locations but, according to our census, only 12 per cent of RACS Fellows live and work rurally in Australia,’ said Dr Clancy. ‘For five of our nine surgical specialties, less than five per cent of surgeons were based outside cities.’

The roll out of the initiatives contained in the Strategy will help to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in rural, regional and remote Australia by aiming to address health inequity experienced by underserviced communities in these areas.

‘We may not be able to achieve everything in the Strategy, but it's time to get serious and talk about the health of rural Australians,’ said Associate Professor Kerin Fielding, Chair of the Rural Health Equity Steering Committee.

In 2021, we achieved significant steps forward as we

  • formed the RACS Rural Health Equity Steering Committee with the National Rural Health Commissioner, RACMA and ANZCA accepting positions on the Committee
  • began developing a Rural Facing Curriculum with Department of Health Specialist Training Program funding
  • held workshops with the RACS specialist training bodies, and state and territory groups.

Plans for 2022 include:                                                                                                                 

  • focusing on the review of hospital accreditation standards and processes, to improve the distribution balance of specialist medical training, and to ensure standards and processes are outcome-driven for community need
  • engaging with state departments of health, regional training hubs and other specialist medical colleges to address complex healthcare issues.

The College also plans to captialise on the development of the new RACS Rural Facing Surgical Curriculum, funded through the Australian Government Department of Health’s Specialist Training Program. We will be working with our Specialist Training Boards to establish a framework to provide rural-facing curricula for surgical-accredited trainees in rural posts.

RACS also plans to work closely with federal and state governments in the implementation of the National Medical Workforce Strategy, especially given its alignment with RACS’ own strategic objectives and the RACS Rural Health Equity Strategy. This collaborative engagement should see changes in the future helping to improve the health and wellbeing of the seven million people living in rural, regional and remote Australia.

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