NewsRural healthcare challenges require place-based investments

Rural healthcare challenges require place-based investments

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In its recently released 2024 State of Australia’s Regions report, the Australian Government has acknowledged pressing issues faced by rural communities. The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) expressed satisfaction with some of the measures outlined in the report but emphasized that the imperative for place-based investment in rural health, aged care, and disability services remains unmet.

While recognizing the need for targeted investments, the report highlights the persisting disparities in health outcomes between rural and urban areas. People in rural regions continue to experience shorter life expectancies, higher levels of disease and injury, and limited access to high-quality health and community services, particularly in more remote areas.

Susi Tegen, Chief Executive of the Alliance, stressed the urgency of place-based contemporary investment to address the unique health challenges faced by the 7 million residents of rural Australia. Tegen referred to the Alliance’s commissioned report from last year, “Evidence base for additional investment in rural health in Australia,” which revealed an annual deficit of $6.55 billion in health spending.

“Funding must be directed towards place-based responses for medical, allied health, nursing, dental, and pharmacies in rural areas. These services are currently underserved, under-supported, and unable to meet the minimum standards of primary health care compared to urban counterparts,” Tegen asserted.

She further criticized existing funding models, stating that they fail to reach grassroots levels, resulting in subpar health conditions for rural Australians. Tegen pointed out that Medicare inadequately covers the costs of delivering services in rural areas, with bulk billing falling short of covering the complete service delivery costs to patients.

The Alliance also highlighted the challenges faced by people with disabilities, calling for innovative and flexible solutions. Limited providers and specialized healthcare services impact this demographic, necessitating creative options that work within regional contexts. The Alliance stressed the importance of encouraging retraining and deployment of disability service providers to rural locations to reduce reliance on telehealth, which should complement, not replace, in-person care.

Looking ahead, the Alliance expressed its anticipation to collaborate with key government figures, including the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Mark Butler MP, the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, the Hon Kristy McBain MP, and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Local Government, the Hon Catherine King MP. The Alliance underscored the need for a comprehensive Regional Investment Framework, emphasizing the interdependence of housing, education, health, and infrastructure to avoid further social and economic disparities in rural Australia.

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