Have budgeteers forgotten the bush?

3 minute read

Health funding announcements have come thick and fast, but rural and remote docs are worried about missing out.

In the run up to next Tuesday’s federal budget the Department of Health has been busy announcing what they will be spending their money on, but one corner of Australian healthcare is experiencing a distinct case of FOMO.

From vaping reforms, voluntary patient enrolment (“My Medicare”), improving digital health ($950m), the primary health workforce, and aged care, the cascade of cash has been constant in the past couple of weeks.

But the National Rural Health Alliance is noticing a marked silence when it comes to money to be spent in their neck of the rural and remote woods.

“Rural and remote Australia has been missing from the conversation so far,” said NRHA CEO Susanne Tegen.

It’s not for lack of trying, says Ms Tegen.

“We’ve been briefing them and we believe they understand the issues,” she told TMR. “Our budget submission offers some cost-effective solutions, but the proof will be in the budget on Tuesday.”

Ms Tegen says the NRHA has been given “no clues” about whether there will be any good news for remote and rural Australians on Tuesday night.

“We certainly hope there will be,” she said. “We cannot keep tweaking around the edges of the issues we have in remote and rural healthcare.

“At some stage [without support] the powerhouse that is rural and remote Australia will break, and then what will happen to the economy?

“We are 30% of the population, providing nearly 50% of tourism income, around 80% of Australia’s exports, and over 90% of our food, and yet the health outcomes for people in rural and remote areas are terrible.

“If that happened in Double Bay, or Toorak, or Hamilton, or Unley Park, there would be uproar.”

In their budget submission, the NRHA has asked for funding for the formalisation and implementation of the Primary care Rural Integrated Multidisciplinary Health Services (PRIM-HS).

“There are community-based primary healthcare organisations that are at risk of closing but are shovel-ready to implement the PRIM-HS model,” Ms Tegen said.

“The model takes a community-led approach to ensuring multidisciplinary health care, equitable pay, career mobility and support to deliver appropriate health care that addresses regional challenges, rather than simply applying an urban model.”

The NRHA also wants a commitment to a national rural health strategy and implementation plan to enable performance benchmarking.

“We recommend improved data analysis, reporting and publication of measures related to health outcomes, health services and health workforce by geographical classification, in particular reporting on health expenditure in rural Australia,” it said.

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