CouncilFest – definitively Better Together

Monday, 24 September 2018

Once a year the National Rural Health Alliance’s now 37 member Council gathers in Canberra to review the progress we have made as an Alliance, set new directions and strategies, and on the third day visit as many Parliamentarians as possible to make it clear what we think are the issues and solutions required to improve the health of the seven million people who live in rural, regional and remote Australia.

This year’s CouncilFest saw a mix of things. We celebrated the launch of our first Reconciliation Action Plan. We commenced the process of reviewing our strategic plan in readiness for a new triennial funding period which we hope will start from July next year. We also reflected on what our short-term objectives were and what we need to be putting to our elected representatives on the third day of our meetings. The meetings at Parliament house were critically important given that sometime between now and May next year a Federal election will be held.

So, at the face-to-face CouncilFest meeting we had a full agenda, we were engaged, we all contributed, and we have set the agenda:

  • we have identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, chronic disease, older person’s health, mental health and early childhood development as our key focus areas for the next three years;
  • we have identified workforce, and communication and digital technologies as focuses for our goals and objectives;
  • we reaffirmed our commitment to achieving equity of access to timely, appropriate and affordable healthcare for people in rural, regional and remote areas;
  • we want a National Rural Health Strategy – a strategy that builds upon the Stronger Rural Health Strategy announced in the May 2018 Federal Budget. This next stage will go beyond the additional doctors and nurses identified in May and look at what strategies are required to redress the under supply of allied health practitioners in country areas;
  • a core part of this Stage Two of the Rural Heath Strategy is the piece of work that was first talked about at the Cairns Rural Health Conference in 2017 – the development of a defined Service Access Standard which identifies the minimum specifications required to ensure effective access to health care for people living in country areas;
  • we also re-asserted our commitment to making sure rural health remains on the political agenda. It is just not acceptable that at the first change in Ministerial portfolios under a new Prime Minister, rural health is no longer mentioned as a key priority in Ministerial assignments; and
  • finally, we resolved that access to services is also dependent on the availability of the technological infrastructure to enable people to be connected. People in particularly remote and very remote areas need to have stable connectivity to the internet and sufficient bandwidth to enable remote in-home monitoring of health conditions, telehealth, tele-psychiatry, tele-medicine and the raft of other applications that are being developed to enable people to access health services remotely.

These were the things we spoke to over 30 Members of Parliament about on the third day of CouncilFest. We had good hearings. We made an impact. Resulting from these meetings there is work that we have been asked to progress. We will keep you informed of developments as we continue to pursue better health outcomes for our seven million constituents in rural, regional and remote Australia.