Rural med­i­cal cri­sis wider than just GPs

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

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

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