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Allied Health for rural and remote Australians

When we talk about the rural health crisis attention often turns to the shortage of GPs and understaffed hospitals.

Too often overlooked is the critically important role of allied health professionals including physiotherapists, speech pathologists, podiatrists and others in prevention and treatment of disease in rural and remote communities.

That was the topic for a meeting between the Foundation and Catherine Maloney, CEO of Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health in Collarenebri (SARRAH) today.

"It's not just that rural GPs need allied health specialists because of their expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of rural patients" said Mr Burdack, CEO of the Healthy Communities Foundation Australia.

"The fact is that for many conditions, allied health can provide superior clinical care because they have specialist knowledge in a particular field.

"A physiotherapist for example spends many more years learning about the structure of the body compared to a medical student.

"If I have a back problem I go to a Physio, not a GP. If I have a tooth problem, I go to a dentist.

"But that option is simply not available for most rural and remote residents, stretching general practice resources to breaking point and making it even less attractive for doctors to work rurally.

"To attract medical workforce to rural towns we need sustainable practices that can assure access to the support of allied health, nursing, dental and other staff. Without this support, it is very risky for a doctor to make the decision to relocate.

"More importantly, rural people may not be getting access to the "right care" because of limited access to allied health in their towns.

"Last year the Foundation worked with rural physiotherapist Angela Hubbard, and the University of Sydney, to explore how we could improve access to allied health care sustainably in rural areas.

"The Remote Integrated and Collaborative Health (RICH) initiative led to a significant increase in service access for rural people. It found that with a small amount of additional funding under Medicare we could deliver a real boost in team-based allied health care in vulnerable rural and remote towns" said Mr Burdack.

The Foundation and SARRAH are exploring how we can improve allied health access for rural and remote Australians in the future.



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