Health infrastructure needs new staffing

La Trobe and Charles Sturt Universities have called on the leaders of all the major parties to immediately release their detailed Rural and Regional Health Plans to show rural people how they will stop the decline of rural health and medical services, and address rural doctor shortages.

They have also called on major parties to ensure that any new regional health infrastructure announcements made during the election are backed by a clear plan for more rural doctors and health professionals.

La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar said:

“Rural communities need to know that any new health infrastructure promised during the election will come with the funding needed to employ more medical and health staff to operate the facilities.

What we don’t want to see is GP and health services closed in smaller rural towns to fund the staffing for new infrastructure in a regional centre or city.

Rural GP’s and health workers are the ones that see patients on a day to day basis, and are critical to preventing chronic disease and picking up things like cancer before it becomes a bigger problem.

There is a shortage of doctors in rural areas, and everyone agrees that rural health services are under threat.  If we continue to lose GPs or other health services in smaller rural centres, we lose the capacity for prevention and early intervention for things like cancer.

Our communities want a long-term plan for rural and regional health. It is only fair that rural people know where the doctors and nurses will come from to support new infrastructure," Professor Dewar said.

Charles Sturt University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andy Vann said:

“Rural people suffer from a higher incidence of chronic disease compared to people in urban areas, die earlier and are more likely to be hospitalised for preventable conditions.  This situation is exacerbated by rural doctor and health shortages.

We are not going to fix rural health and doctor shortages without a clear plan for rural health, including plans for growing the rural health and medical workforce.

Rural and regional communities still have substantially fewer doctors compared to major cities, despite significant investment to improve the situation.

A review by Health Workforce Australia found that current policies are unlikely to address the “geographic mal-distribution” of doctors in rural Australia.

It is important that all major parties explain in detail what changes they plan to make to improve rural and regional health services, and fix rural doctor shortages, during this election cycle," Professor Vann said.

Charles Sturt University and La Trobe University are the largest providers of health education to students in rural and regional NSW and Victoria, and have been successfully growing the rural health workforce for more than a decade.

They have submitted a plan to fix rural doctor shortages by establishing a rurally-based Murray Darling Medical School with campuses in Orange, Bendigo and Wagga Wagga. The Nationals promised to deliver the School at the 2013 election and rural communities are waiting on an announcement that funding will be approved so the School can commence in 2018.

Media: Kate O'Connor; 5444 7415 / Catherine Garrett 9479 6565

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