A report has been published this week on some of the key issues that will enable Medicare Locals to deal with the particular challenges they face in rural and remote areas.
The report is from a Rural Policy Forum held on 7 April in conjunction with the 12th National Rural Health Conference in Adelaide. The Forum was jointly managed by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA), National Rural Health Alliance and the Australian Medicare Local Alliance.
Forty people from acute care services, Medicare Locals, professional associations, peak NGOs and universities attended the Forum because of a shared concern with the coordination of healthcare services in rural and remote areas.
Speakers dealt with issues related to Medicare Local service planning and coordination, workforce supply and retention, flexibility of funding, and research opportunities.
Vanessa Vanderhoek, from the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority, focused on the block funding approach for small rural hospitals. Claire Austin, CEO of the AML Alliance, spoke about challenges faced by rural MLs in integrating primary health care. The CEOs of two Medicare Locals - Andrew Harvey (Qld) and Kate Clarke (WA) - and Jenny Cleary, Executive Director, NT Department of Health, shared contrasting experiences from their areas and re- emphasised the need for local strategies and focus in addressing local needs.
The Forum confirmed the absolutely critical need to involve the community and all service providers in the planning and delivery of rural and remote health services. There must also be flexibility in service models and funding arrangements.
For rural Medicare Locals, collaboration with local people in the context of service organisations is fundamental for coordinating primary health care. For example, links amongst and between primary care, community, acute (the hospitals), aged and disability services, step-down and rehabilitation, the Aboriginal community controlled sector, and both public and private services relating to the social determinants of health make the difference for locally coordinated services.
Participants agreed about the important role of Medicare Locals and their future, and the need for increased certainty of funding for a range of programs. The need to reduce administrative and reporting burdens was also seen as a priority.
The Forum was led by Andrew McAuliffe, Senior Director of Policy and Networks at AHHA.