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Western NSW LHD ends a 20-year history of success in rural health

The Western NSW Local Health District has announced that it will no longer fund the charity Rural and Remote Medical Services (RARMS) to continue to provide on-site health and medical services in Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Collarenebri, Lightning Ridge and Walgett from March 2021.

The decision ends a 20-year history of collaboration that has successfully ensured 24/7 access to health and hospital services in remote communities in NSW.

The decision does not affect any of RARMS' other Rural Medical Centres or services.

The District has awarded Ochre Health the contract to deliver services in these communities.

“This is obviously a very disappointing outcome for our communities, but the Western NSW LHD and its board are ultimately responsible for deciding how they allocate funding to ensure equitable access to healthcare in western NSW, not RARMS” said Mr Burdack, CEO of Rural and Remote Medical Services (RARMS).

"Our job was to solve a problem that the District had in maintaining cost-effective health and hospital services in rural and remote communities, and our work has been acknowledged in numerous research papers, reports and inquiries around Australia and overseas.

“We are obviously disappointed that the Western NSW Local Health District decided to discontinue this hugely successful program that has kept health and hospital services open in some of the most difficult to service towns in Australia.

“But we also acknowledge that Western NSW is a huge geographic area, and the District has a very difficult job in balancing how much money goes to the big centres like Orange and Dubbo, and how much is left over to deliver services in small rural and remote towns.

“The health needs of small rural and remote towns are obviously completely different to those of large regional cities and we know from working out there for 20 years that it is a lot more expensive per person to support 24/7 medical services in remote communities because of the high levels of chronic disease and the geographically dispersed populations.

"I can't praise our passionate and dedicated staff and doctors enough. They are RARMS and this will feel like a kick in the guts after so many years of hard work and going the extra mile.

"They have saved lives, improved health and reduced the cost of health care in these communities. We all owe them a debt of thanks for their commitment to being there in our communities at 3am in the morning or 10pm at night - whenever they were needed to provide high quality care.

"We don't just deliver health and hospital services, we are also a training provider for future doctors and nurses. We are working on research projects with universities to improve the delivery of remote healthcare and we are engaged with a range of other community services to support the health and well-being of our communities.

"This decision will have a big impact on our towns and the decision has taken toll on our rural and remote staff. I think people are feeling that their efforts have not been understood or respected.

"This is going to be a difficult time, but I want to assure you that RARMS was established as a charity to help rural and remote towns build and maintain health and hospital services where other options had failed. Nothing has changed our commitment to the health and well-being of our towns.

"I know our colleagues at Ochre Health very well. Ochre Health was born in the same remote soils as RARMS, and we have in our shared DNA a common commitment to ensuring the continuity of rural and remote medical services.

"Dermot Roache, the CEO of Ochre, was the first person on the phone to me when this decision was made to send his regards.

"RARMS and Ochre obviously have very different business models, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't think the RARMS model is more sustainable in the long term.

"But I do not doubt that Ochre shares our belief in the principle that remote communities are entitled to have access to high quality health and medical care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"At the end of the day, we will talk to our local communities and Councils and be guided by them as we have always been in how we support the future of healthcare in our towns" said Mark Burdack.

RARMS was established in 2001 as a charity in response to the inability of the Local Health Districts to attract and retain doctors in small rural and remote towns. For 20 years, RARMS has ensured 24/7 access to local GPs and emergency services in the most difficulty to service communities in Australia.

Over this time RARMS has significantly reduced the cost to the Local Health District of delivering rural hospital services, while also reducing the number of patients attending hospital by running locally staffed GP primary care clinics. RARMS will continue to deliver primary healthcare services in all its Rural Medical Centres and is in discussions with other rural towns in NSW and elsewhere about extending its successful model to other communities.

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