Rural medical crisis wider than just GPs
Siobhain Ryan AKE 886 GPs, and give them all of remote Australia to service. Then take the other 24,678 and hand them the rest of the nation, with the proviso that seven out of every 10 work in the biggest cities.
If the distribution seems unbalanced that’s because it is, according to a new commonwealth audit of Australia’s health workforce released this week.
‘‘ Regional and remote Australians continue to be disadvantaged in their access to health professionals compared to their urban counterparts,’’ the health department audit says. For Rural Doctors Association of Australia chief executive officer Steve Sant, that’s an understatement. ‘‘ Warning bells are ringing big-time,’’ he said after Wednesday’s release of the audit.
In February, an alliance of 15 peak health groups, including his own, estimated the shortfall of health professionals in the bush at 1600 or more, including 1000 doctors.
But the audit results could force that figure higher still. ‘‘ It actually looks worse than what I had expected,’’ Sant said. ‘‘ It vindicates what we’re saying and we may have underestimated the number of doctors needed.’’
The report shows the nation now imports more than a third of its doctors from overseas to address its chronic shortages, with the figure topping 40 per cent in the bush. And it’s not just doctors who are missing from country Australia.
Medical workers, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, optometrists and other allied health professionals also prefer city living, the data shows.
Only nurses are comparatively evenly distributed, ‘‘ holding the fort’’ in rural and remote Australia according to the Australian Nursing Federation.
Their numbers — representing about half of the nation’s health workforce — could shore up the ANF’s arguments for more direct prescribing, examination and billing rights than they have at present.
But they still will not solve what the federal health minister Nicola Roxon called the ‘‘ dire state of affairs’’ in rural health.
She has responded to the audit by promising to set up an office of rural health within her department and spend a year reviewing incentives schemes for rural health workers, as well as the system of classifying rural, remote and metro areas.
So far, the pledges have attracted a mixed response.
‘‘ Our fervent hope is that this Government’s term in office will not just be remembered as a time for more review, but of real action,’’ RDAA president Peter Rischbieth said.
Some of the most telling parts of the Continued inside — Page 17