Enough ‘talkfests and Band-Aids’ on remote care

4 minute read

The chair of a new rural health advocacy group hopes its conference will put community at the centre of remote care.

Next week, Remote Australians Matter will hold a two-day conference aiming to connect remote communities with healthcare representatives to establish a minimum standard of primary healthcare for the most rural Australians.

The recently formed group calls itself “a company established to focus attention on the health of people who live in remote and very remote Australia based on the classifications designated in the Modified Monash Model as MMM 6 and MMM 7”.

“There are so many talkfests and meetings and conferences to which community is never invited, never asked their opinion,” chair Annabelle Brayley told The Medical Republic.

“And that’s why we were focusing the attention on this [conference] being community-driven because we want this to be real grassroots people driving this. We want community to know that they can actually get involved.”

One of the main focuses of the conference, which will be held in Charleville, will be to establish what a minimum standard of primary care in remote and very remote areas – which does not currently exist – should look like.

“What we’re asking for is equitable access to a mandated minimum standard of primary healthcare that aligns with that available uptown in a city and is appropriate to [remote communities] needs,” said Ms Brayley.

While Ms Brayley acknowledged that the same variability in choice may not be available in remote communities compared to less remote areas, she said uniformity of access and quality was achievable if models of care were designed specifically to suit the needs of the communities they’re designed for.

Ms Brayley hoped that equitable access to primary healthcare would help facilitate earlier diagnosis, reducing the impact of longer-term healthcare issues, particularly for children.

She added that equity of access was important for allowing community to be involved and responsible for their own primary healthcare and that a nuanced approach needs to be applied in remote areas, as each remote area is affected by different problems.

“In the whole rural health context, remote and very remote often gets overlooked, because there’s hardly any people, there’s practically no votes, and the geography and demography complicated logistics of delivery,” she said.

The conference will also include presentations on three models of care that RAM believes are working successfully: CWAATSICH in Charleville, Wirraka Maya in Port Hedland and the Mallacoota model.

Ms Bayler also drew attention to other “fantastic models of care, that are delivering good primary care” in rural areas, such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

“We know we’ve got a lot of wonderful GPs who are working in rural and remote and including rural generalists who are trained by ACRRM,” she added.

“[RAM] appreciate having access to a doc when we need one and we appreciate that some docs are pulling out all the stops to provide appropriate care under, often, challenging circumstances.”

Ms Brayley asked that medical staff of all disciplines incorporate an understanding of geography and local culture into providing care in rural areas.

“Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to stop sticking on Band-Aids and throwing money around and actually make a common-sense plan and start to roll it out.”

The conference will also include workshops led by community members, that aim to discuss the needs of remote communities and cultivate advisory groups rooted in community.

The group plans to take a delegation to Canberra next year to put forward their proposal for a minimum standard of primary care for remote and very remote areas, as well as any other issues established at the conference.

“This is not just about, you know, identifying the issues and complaining,” said Ms Brayley.

“We’re sick of hearing people talk about stuff and nothing changes.”

According to Ms Brayley, RAM invited “every politician who has any connection to health and remote or very remote Australia”. While the Opposition resources spokeswoman Senator Susan McDonald and the Shadow Assistant Minister for families and seniors, mental health and drug and alcohol treatment Robert Molhoek have said they will attend, Ms Brayley said the response from politicians had been overall disappointing: most were unable to attend or “didn’t get the invitations because the carrier pigeons lost the message”.

“Anyone who lives in remote or very remote Australia – regardless of who they are, where they live, how they come to be there – if they live in [MM6-7], they’re welcome to be a part of this conversation,” she said.

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