Current policies are not addressing the healthcare inequalities faced by rural Australians and significant reform is needed in order to ensure that people in rural communities can access a similar level of care afforded to those living in metropolitan Australia, according to the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) Senate Inquiry submission.
In the RDAA submission to the Senate Inquiry The factors affecting the supply of health services and medical professionals in rural areas, Dr Paul Mara, RDAA President, said that Australians in rural and remote areas should have the same right to quality health services as their counterparts in metropolitan centres, but that unfortunately this is not the reality.
“To ensure we have accessible and quality health services in the bush, we need a stable, sustainable, and appropriately skilled rural health workforce,” Dr Mara said.
“Rural medical practice is different to urban medical practice. Rural doctors work in a range of communities and practice settings across a broad scope of professional activities.
“They practise ʻcradle to the graveʼ medicine, delivering babies, resuscitating severely injured patients, administering anaesthetics, providing palliative care, and treating chronic disease and mental illness, as well as providing primary care in their communities.
“The smaller the rural community, the longer hours the local GP is likely to work when the demands of private practice, hospital work and on call duties are taken into account.
“The fundamental building blocks for sustainable rural medical practice are financial viability, professional support, work/life balance and good infrastructure.
“Without these building blocks, rural medical workforce shortages will persist and the health disadvantage which is experienced by people living in rural and remote Australia will continue,” Dr Mara said
“They should underpin all policies which relate to the supply and provision of rural health services”
In its submission, RDAA is calling for an urgent review of the ASGC-RA, which is responsible for classifying large regional cities such as Hobart, Cairns and Townsville as more “rural” than under the previous Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Areas (RRMA) classification system.
“In spite of claims by the bureaucracy that this system is working, we know that this new classification system has contributed significantly to workforce problems in affected areas”.
“Unless major changes are made to increase the classification differential between these cities and small rural towns, and to appropriately classify rural and regional areas, precious health dollars will continue to be spent on incentives to doctors and practices located in areas where there are fewer workforce shortages, with the small rural towns missing out on attracting much-needed doctors.”