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Only $27 million for rural health, Mr Fischer?: then where are the cuts to be made?

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Dr Carmen Lawrence Minister for Human Services and Health Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women

CL 53/96 4 February 1996


The Federal Minister for Human Services and Health, Carmen Lawrence, today challenged the Opposition to detail where they will make cuts to the Rural Health Strategy after their announcement of a $27 million three year program.

"The Federal Government is already committed to spending $45.3 million over the next three years on the Rural Incentives Program alone," Dr Lawrence said.

"So what would a Coalition Government cut?"

Dr Lawrence said the Coalition's rural health policy borrowed heavily from policies Labor already had in place:

* the $15.1 million a year Rural Incentives Program which gives medical practitioners financial incentives to move to country areas. 198 doctors have already moved to, or been to persuaded to stay in, regional areas and a further 78 applications from doctors are being considered at the moment;

* the Rural Incentives Program also provides $5 million a year for locum services and $2.5 million to medical schools to provide country medical experience to students as part of their curriculum, not merely as a vacation time optional extra;

* the Federal Government has already encouraged several medical schools to change their selection criteria to recruit more country students;

* in addition to the Rural Incentives Program, the Government provides $23 million a year to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, a significant proportion of which funds their program for training GP's in rural medicine; and,

* together the Federal and New South Wales Governments are already piloting nurse practitioner programs.

"But there was no mention by Mr Fischer today of other key aspects of the Government's Rural Health Strategy," Dr Lawrence said.

"Is this where cuts will be made?"









From the Rural Health Support, Education and Training program (RHSET) under which the Federal Government has spent $30 million over the past five years on 330 projectswhich support other health professionals such as dentists, nurses, aboriginal health workers, pharmacists and physiotherapists etc to ensure that these vital services are also available in rural Australia?

the $1 million a year satellite support network which assists country doctors in ongoing professional education and reduces their professional isolation?



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* the $2 million spent this year on visiting specialists or $6.2 million allocated in the last Budget for 14 new specialists training positions in regional Australia?

* from the 20 per cent special loading for country practices under the Better Practice Program which provides grants of up to $20,000 to practices providing the full range of family medical services?;

* or from the $8.7 million allocated in the last Budget to double the number of Multi Purpose Services which combine medical and aged care services to towns with populations too small to sustain stand alone hospitals or nursing homes?

"In the last ten years there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of GP's in regional Australia and a 25 per cent increase in remote areas," Dr Lawrence said.

"In contrast, today's rural health announcement by the Coalition is a great disappointment to rural and regional Australia.

"Far from 'ending the drought’ of health and medical services in rural and remote areas, it will make the situation worse.

"Such a massive cut to the Rural Health Strategy will make it much harder for families in rural and remote Australia to get the health services they deserve.

"Clearly, country Australians can't trust their health to a Coalition Government."

Contact: Brenda Conroy 0412 414781