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Rural & remote health services declining: Survey

The 2nd Annual Rural and Remote Communities Healthcare Survey released today found that more than 86 percent of rural and remote residents believe that GP access has not improved, and more than 80 percent believe that rural hospital emergency services have not improved, over the last 5 years.

This is despite hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into medical schools, scholarships and rural funding bodies over the last 20 years to fix rural and remote health.

The Survey is the only one of its type in Australia and asks rural and remote people directly for their views on access to healthcare, GPs and hospital services.

"The Survey is a wake-up call about the decaying state of our rural and remote health and hospital system" said Mark Burdack, CEO of Rural and Remote Medical Services (RARMS) which conducted the Survey.

"State and Federal government centralisation of health and hospital services in regional cities has resulted in funding and services being withdrawn from rural and remote areas.

"This Survey is a timely reminder that rural and remote people have the worst health outcomes in Australia, and the poorest access to primary healthcare and hospital services" said Mr Burdack.

The Survey found that 99.2 percent of respondents believe that access to a local GP in town is important, while 100 percent responded that access to a local emergency department staffed by an on-call doctor is important.

"There is a critical need to address the funding issues in rural and remote healthcare. Australia has a commitment to universal health care but we simply don't live up to the hype" said Mr Burdack.

"The reality is that Medicare and hospital care is only universal if you can actually make an appointment to see a doctor which is often not the case in rural and remote communities.

"This is part of the reason why we have such appalling rates of chronic disease and mortality among rural, remote and Indigenous citizens.

"We have proven that we can get doctors to live and work in rural and remote communities as RARMS has been doing for 20 years. But poorly designed funding programs, and the lack of accountability for rural health outcomes, makes the job harder and harder every year.

"Our current rural health programs have been going for 20 years and its time to take a long and hard look at what they have achieved. Frankly, the view in rural and remote Australia is that they have delivered more high paying jobs in our cities than doctors to the bush.

"A study by the National Rural Health Alliance found that the government saves more than $2 billion a year because without doctors rural and remote people cannot access Medicare or PBS benefits. It's time to redress this wrong.

"Its all well and good for the government to place an advertisement for a rural doctor or nurse in a newspaper, but if you know that you are offering under-market to attract that doctor or nurse to rural practice, then frankly its just window-dressing.

"If governments don't sort out the rural health funding mess and start to listen to rural and remote people rather than city based 'rural lobbyists', then why should we be surprised if doctors and nurses go to cities where they can get better pay and conditions.

"We need to take rural and remote health care seriously and that means fixing the rural health funding mess and start investing to make sure that the people who produce our food, generate 2/3 of our export wealth and maintain the oldest continuous culture on earth are cared for regardless of where they live in the country".

In a recent media release in response to the planned Inquiry into regional, rural and remote health care in NSW the President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr John Hall, said:

“After decades of funding erosion by successive state governments we need to halt and reverse this alarming trend, which is not keeping pace with community needs.

“The worst outcomes for rural communities will be that much-needed local hospital services, that are currently providing quality health outcomes to rural NSW patients, are shut down.

“The rural population continues to grow, and this should be accompanied by increased local medical capacity, with less centralisation in Base hospitals,” Dr Hall said.

A copy of the Survey Report is available here.

RARMS is the largest charitable provider of on-site GP and hospital medical officer services in rural and remote NSW. It serves more than 22,000 active patients in the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in NSW. More than 26 percent of its patients are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Mark Burdack is the CEO of RARMS and a Hon Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the La Trobe University School of Rural Health. Mark Burdack previously led the Charles Sturt University rural dental school initiative and the rural Murray Darling Medical School initiative to train more rural kids to become doctors and dentists in rural and remote communities.

For further information please call Mark Burdack on 0418974988.



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