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Parties called on to sustain advances in rural health.



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Election Charter Media Release 2 7 August 2004

Parties called on to sustain advances in rural health

Political parties have been called on by the NRHA to build on advances made in rural and remote health over the past ten years and to seek to ensure that, more than is now the case, health dollars are distributed according to health need - wherever it exists. Much has been achieved but, overall, the health of people in non-metropolitan areas is still poorer than that of their metropolitan cousins. The Parties are therefore asked to commit to raising the health status of people in rural and remote areas to that of their urban counterparts by 2020.

The 34 per cent of Australians who live outside the major cities tend to face higher levels of health risk factors and experience higher mortality rates. They are more likely to be smokers; to drink alcohol in dangerous quantities; to be overweight or obese; to be physically inactive; to have lower levels of education and poorer access to work (particularly skilled work)1. They also have poorer access to health services, even in rural areas experiencing growth.

Some of the main occupations found only in rural and remote areas are physically risky. Travelling on country roads entails greater risks. Finally, Indigenous Australians make up a substantial proportion of rural and, particularly, remote areas and their overall health is very poor. People in rural areas make greater use of hospital emergency departments as a source of primary care and of hospital beds for aged care.

These factors all add up to higher death rates. The so-called ‘excess’ deaths in rural, regional and remote areas are due largely to increased heart disease, injury (including suicide), chronic lung disease, diabetes and some cancers.

The 34 per cent receive nothing like 34 per cent of health resources. In fact they receive about 20 per cent of Medicare rebates and are served by 15 per cent of the medical workforce - two facts that are closely related.

Good health requires investments in living conditions and networks of care that create, maintain and protect health regardless of geographic location. The Alliance therefore continues to support health-improving changes in areas like housing, employment, transport, community services, recreation, aged care, telecommunications and broadcasting, and 'citizenship services' such as those that enable participation in social, political and economic decision making - as well as improved health services more narrowly defined.

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2004. Australia’s Health 2004. Canberra: AIHW.

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In its Election Charter the Alliance calls upon governments and health agencies to ensure that the trend of health expenditures in the immediate future favours health promotion and illness prevention. This will require political courage, as there are strong and effective vested interests supporting the treatment of illness.

The Charter seeks an explicit declaration from Parties that, if in government, they would make Aboriginal health and well-being the number one national social priority. Action on this will require the Australian Government to provide ongoing leadership through all relevant agencies and issues (eg employment, community services, housing, reconciliation etc).

The Charter also seeks a commitment from whichever Party wins government to accept responsibility for funding necessary primary care services in remote areas regardless of which suitably qualified health care professionals provide them.

The Alliance is calling for consideration of new structures for managing and funding Australia’s health system to make it more effective in addressing health inequalities and ensuring that access to services is on the basis of health need only.

The Alliance’s Election Charter 2004 can be seen at www.ruralhealth.org.au

Further information: Sue McAlpin, Chairperson 0408 228 932

Gordon Gregory, Executive Director 02 6285 4660

Visit ‘Publications and News’ at www.ruralhealth.org.au for the Alliance’s policy documents.