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Budget 2007: Rural health forgotten in Budget '07

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Tuesday 8 May 2007

Rural health forgotten in Budget ’07

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) says rural health has “been dropped like a hot potato” in this year’s federal budget, with very little in the budget to increase the number of rural doctors or improve access to healthcare services in rural and remote Australia.

The Association has also expressed its concern that the Federal Government continues to ignore the need for a Rural Health Obligation in setting a defined minimum standard of access to local doctors, hospitals and health services in rural communities.

“We are very disappointed at the lack of new rural health funding in this budget” RDAA President, Dr Peter Rischbieth, said. “There was very little for rural health in last year’s budget and there’s very little in this year’s budget—the Federal Government does not seem to realise that rural healthcare is flatlining and the longer it takes to treat it, the harder it will be to revive it.

“We are very concerned that the Government is ignoring our call for a Rural Health Obligation to be adopted by the federal and state governments—does the Government really believe that a minimum service obligation is good enough for rural phone lines but not for rural people’s health?

“We are the first to acknowledge that during its time in office the Government has introduced some welcome rural health initiatives, but against the enormity of what is required to turn the rural health crisis around, most of these measures have really only been tinkering at the edges.

“The Federal Government must get serious about ensuring a sustainable future for hospitals, health services and the medical workforce in country Australia. Rural Australians deserve much better treatment from governments than they are currently getting, and the Federal Government needs to lead the way in improving the situation. We need a massive injection right now of new and continuing funding into rural healthcare, directed across a wide range of initiatives.

“Key among them should be the introduction through Medicare of rural-specific fee for service payments to compensate rural doctors for the professional and family isolation, and the increased skills and responsibility, of rural and remote practice. It is the only way that we are going to get a significant flow of doctors into rural Australia—and currently we need at least another 900 of them just to ensure basic medical coverage is available in the bush.

“There must also be substantial funding allocated specifically in the next Australian Health Care Agreements between the federal and state governments to better support rural hospitals and health services.

“There are some funding initiatives in this budget which will assist rural and remote Australians. These include the already announced additional funding for the Royal Flying Doctors Service; funding to expand the Rural Women’s GP Service; funding to improve access to mental health support in drought-affected rural and remote communities; funding for a new Rural Clinical School through the University of Wollongong; an enhanced Medicare item to provide dental treatment for patients with chronic and complex conditions; funding to provide Rural Retention Program grants to additional doctors who remain practising in rural and remote Australia for certain numbers of years depending on their location; some additional funding to improve access to healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in rural and remote Australia; and funding for campaigns to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and skin cancer, and to encourage physical activity and better nutrition.

“While these initiatives are welcomed, there remains a need for additional, clearly focused federal initiatives to increase the number of doctors and other health professionals in rural and remote Australia and a need for significantly improved supports for rural hospitals and health services.”

RDAA President, Dr Peter Rischbieth, and other RDAA representatives are available to provide budget comment tonight and tomorrow. Media contact: Patrick Daley on tel: (02) 6273 9303 bh or 0408 004 890.