No more talking, we are ‘doing’ for rural health
WHEN it comes to improving rural health services, it’s time for practical solutions.
The challenges are well known: shortages of health workers, older hospitals and health facilities and long distances to specialist centres, all have to be addressed so that rural Australians can get the health care they need, when and where they need it.
We have to think smarter and work harder with an obvious starting point being how to increase the numbers of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in the bush.
One of the ways that we are making it more attractive for doctors to work in rural Australia is through significant bonus payments for doctors who choose to work in the most remote locations and retention payments to encourage others to stay in these areas.
This combined with making it easier to get locum services so that rural doctors can take further training or much needed holidays are important ways to support rural GPs.
Increasing training opportunities in the bush is key and we are providing more support for university departments of rural health to encourage students of medicine, nursing and allied health professions to pursue a career in rural practice.
We are also boosting the number of overseas trained doctors, who can have restrictions on where they can practice removed sooner by working first in regional, rural and remote locations.
People in rural areas are already benefiting from these initiatives – an increase in the number of full-time equivalent GPs of more than 4% in 2010–11 (compared to the previous year) means it is getting easier to see a doctor.
No one is pretending that the problem is fixed, it will take time, but the signs are encouraging.
Take the overseas doctor now practising in a Victorian country town who says rural medicine is not just a career, it is a way of life, and who has decided “I have no intention to exchange it for anything else”.
Or the Tasmanian GP who says she enjoys rural medicine because of its broad scope and the opportunity to provide ‘cradle-to-grave’ health care.
We also know that doctors and other health professionals are also more likely to choose rural locations if facilities are good.
That’s why we are spending $117 million to expand or upgrade more than 400 medical centres across the country.
This government has also made the largest ever investment in regional and rural health facilities – a total of $1.8 billion. Last year’s budget gave the details of the first 63 new projects, e.g. a new hospital for the Bega region in NSW, short-term patient accommodation in Katherine, NT, the redevelopment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service base in Mt Isa, Queensland, and a dialysis unit upgrade in Ararat, Victoria. We will be announcing more projects shortly.
Our investment in 24 new Regional Cancer Centres will mean that people will be able to access services locally, making it easier for patients and their families.
The Regional Cancer Centres will provide practical solutions that will improve the survival rate of patients.
Where it’s not possible to have specialist services in person, we are using technology to make it easier for rural patients to access them remotely.
Our investments in telehealth, where a patient consults a doctor or other health professional by video conferencing, is helping to remove the tyranny of distance.
Imagine a cancer patient in Mandurah, Western Australia, speaking with her oncologist in Perth. She will be able to remain in the comfort of her own home with family and carers, while her specialist collects real time vital statistics such as blood pressure or heart rate.
More health professionals, better health facilities and making it easier for patients to access services that are only available in the city – these are all things that are making a difference.
It’s not just a time for talking, this government is doing.
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