Health experts representing Australia’s rural communities have presented Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, with a blueprint to improve health services to the much under-funded rural areas of Australia.
At its annual conference in Canberra in September, the National Rural Health Alliance, which represents 28 different groups delivering health services to the bush (including optometrists and ophthalmologists), presented a dire diagnosis of the problems.
According to the Alliance, Australians’ life expectancy, on average, is three years shorter than their urban or regional counterparts’ and those living in remote areas dying, on average, seven years earlier than city dwellers.
It says with the bush is short of at least 1000 doctors and only the influx of overseas-trained doctors (up to 50 per cent of doctors in some areas), is the only reason the medical workforce is not in complete freefall.
We know for example the Medicare deficit what people in the bush miss out under the demand-driven financing mechanisms is somewhere in the order of AUD$266million a year
Alliance chairman Professor John Wakerman, who is also director of the Centre of Remote Health, a joint project of Flinders University and Charles Darwin University, said that rural Australians had only very limited access to medical services that urban Australian took for granted.
”If you’re living in a community 200km from Alice Springs, you may or may not have a GP resident in your community, you may be relying on periodic visits from a GP,” he said.
”You would not have easy access to a podiatrist, a nutritionist or dietician or an optometrist.
”There might be infrequent visits by those people or you might have to travel the 200km to Alice Springs to see them and you might or might not have your costs reimbursed by their state Government Patient Transport Scheme.”
Prof. Wakerman, says a Commonwealth takeover of health funding in the bush would provide a more efficient system.
“The report card from the Institute of Health and Welfare last week was not a good one for the bush,” he said.
“Our health is still lagging behind those in the city so what we’re saying is look at a single level of government responsible for funding the health system and roll it out, deliver the health system on a regional basis.
“What we’re going to be saying to the Minister is that we think it’s time for some major reform,” he said.
“We think that there should be one level of government in Australia that takes responsibility for health services to the bush and we’d like to see those health services delivered at a regional level on a regional basis across the country.”
The Alliance said rural Australia had only 15 per cent of the nation’s GPs and received only 20 per cent of Medicare funding, despite having more than 30 per cent of the population.
”We know for example the Medicare deficit what people in the bush miss out under the demand-driven financing mechanisms is somewhere in the order of AUD$266million a year,” Professor Wakerman said.
The Alliance is eagerly awaiting the Minister’s response.