Mine the expertise of rural doctors’ groups
AS any rural doctor will tell you, things can work differently in the bush – the tyranny of distance, available health workforce, complexity of cases and other factors often mean that what works in a city practice or city hospital just doesn’t have legs in the rural health setting.
The tendency for governments and policymakers to simply overlook the differences between metropolitan and rural healthcare delivery is what makes the existence of organisations like RDAA so critical in providing rural-specific input on health policy – and why their views (and the views of individual rural doctors) will be essential in achieving national health reform that works for all Australians, not just those living in the cities.
Having been involved in the rural doctors’ movement for many years, I was very pleased that a recent survey of our members showed they value greatly the work that RDAA undertakes.
A majority of respondents described us as effective or very effective in a range of areas, including lobbying the Federal Government on behalf of rural doctors, advocating for rural communities, identifying and prioritising key issues in rural health, and advocating increased supports for rural doctors.
Understandably, many also expressed their frustration at the lack of action from governments in many areas of rural health, particularly the big-ticket items of getting more doctors to the bush and saving rural hospitals from downgrades or closure.
RDAA takes seriously its role as a national body representing the interests of rural and remote doctors and the communities they serve. This involves much more than what might seem immediately obvious, like the times you see or hear RDAA quoted in the media.
For example, RDAA and the state Rural Doctors Associations frequently provide expert advice on a wide range of health issues, often to federal and state health departments and numerous other health and medical organisations.
Our input and assistance are sought on an incredibly wide range of topics, from radiology standards for practices to the need to improve patient-assisted travel schemes.
This requires a huge collective effort involving both RDAA’s national office and the very dedicated rural doctors who volunteer their time to represent us at a myriad of meetings.
In fact, every time you hear about the Federal Government releasing another report into health – like the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report, the National Primary Health Care Strategy, the Review of Rural Health Programs and the Maternity Services Review – RDAA has put in a detailed response, drawing attention yet again to the rural-specific issues involved.
We also play a critical role on matters of national health concern.
For example, we have been closely involved in providing rural-specific advice to the Federal Health Department on the swine flu pandemic, and we played a critical early co-ordinating role in response to the Victorian bushfires, urging members to volunteer their time to assist rural doctors working on the frontline.
In short, RDAA and the state Rural Doctors Associations are a lot more than simply the voice grabs you hear on morning radio. There is real substance to what we fight for and real substance in what we can bring to the table: an unrivalled knowledge of how things work in the bush.
It is precisely this substance that our governments must tap into and benefit from as the national health reform process picks up speed.