The seven million people living in regional, rural and remote Australia need a national strategy and implementation plan to bridge the divide between their health and wellbeing, and that of people in metropolitan areas.
“For too long, Australia has been without an overarching strategy and implementation plan which is dedicated to bridging the health divide between the city and the bush,” National Rural Health Alliance CEO David Butt said today.
“There are a range of national strategies in place or being developed – and rightly so – for various population groups where we know there is disadvantage and a high burden of disease.
“There is overwhelming evidence which shows that where you live impacts on your health and wellbeing – that the further you are away from a capital city, the worse your health, and your access to services, tends to become.
“But we are now in a rare period in decades of rural health planning and reform where we do not have a current National Rural Health Strategy, and that needs to change.”
Mr Butt said the first National Rural Health Strategy was released in 1994.
“There were various updates and revisions of the strategy over the ensuing years, with the last being the National Strategic Framework for Rural and Remote Health, endorsed by Health Ministers in November 2011.
“At the time, the Alliance called for a National Rural and Remote Health Plan to be developed to operationalise the goals set out in the Framework, but it never eventuated.
“So the Framework has not been actioned in a consistent, comprehensive way, there are no national reports on progress against the Framework, and no action has been taken to update it.”
Mr Butt said the Alliance recognised the effort being put into health workforce programs, including for rural and remote Australia.
“But workforce is only one part of a more complex equation about what’s different and what needs to be done to fix the divide in health outcomes for rural Australia,” he said.
“What we have seen is that many of the issues specific to rural and remote health have been subsumed into the broader health agenda and swamped by the sheer enormity of metropolitan health and wellbeing.
“With the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, proposing a long-term health plan for Australia, the opportunity now exists to recognise the differences for rural and remote people and have a plan dedicated to improving access and reducing the social and economic burden of disease.”
Mr Butt said a rural health strategy and plan were not ends in themselves but rather provide the framework within which policies should be developed, planned, implemented and measured.
“We don’t need a focus on high-level principles given there is already significant non-partisan and sector agreement: rather we need a plan within which specific on-the-ground, concrete programs and models of care should be designed and operated and on which existing and new health budget allocations should be made.
“It needs to run in parallel with the Government’s long-term health strategy, and with other national strategies – for example, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention, aged care and disability reform.