The National Rural Health Alliance today welcomed the commitment of the Federal Opposition to the development of a dedicated National Rural Heath Strategy and Implementation Plan.
The commitment was made by Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King in the opening session of the 14th National Rural Health Conference, which started in Cairns today.
Alliance Chair, Geri Malone, said today that the commitment by Ms King represented an important breakthrough for the seven million people who live in rural and remote Australia.
“The Alliance has been encouraging broad, non-partisan support for a national strategy for rural and remote health and wellbeing,” Ms Malone said.
“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.
“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.”
Ms Malone 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.”
Ms Malone said the Alliance recognised the effort being put into health workforce programs, including for rural and remote Australia.
“We also know 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,” she said.
“We constantly seem to have to remind the non-believers in our cause, be that politicians and funders, metro centric decision makers and influencers, that firstly as 30 percent of the Australian population, we are entitled to equity in health service provision.
“This does not mean doing the same. One size does not fit all. We know there are many ways of achieving the same end result, but that requires adaptation and contextualization to make it work – contextualized to place, place-based and individualised care.
“It is not an easy task and it can become somewhat disheartening to have to plead our case repeatedly.
“We therefore see a national rural health strategy and plan not as ends in themselves but rather they provide the framework within which policies should be developed, planned, implemented and measured."