PM promises 'more' for rural health

PEOPLE in rural and remote Australia will be very pleased today with the Prime Minister’s promise that the new health care agreement will bring more money, more beds, more services, more local control, more accountability and less waste, the National Rural Health Alliance has said.

Alliance chair Dr Jenny May described the sign-off as a positive step and hoped that attention would now focus on meeting the health needs of those whose need is greatest.

“Governments will need to be conscientious about making sure that a fair share of the funding and benefits of that agreement will reach the one third of the population who live outside the major cities and whose health status is poorer,” Dr May said.

“The health care agreement between the Commonwealth and the States is primarily about hospital funding, investment in subacute beds and reduced waiting times.

“But let’s not forget that hospitals are only one part of the Australian health care system. Primary health care – the care that can help keep people out of hospitals – is another important priority for rural and remote Australia, which suffers from a monumental underspend of $2.4 to $2.7 billion per year in primary care.”

The Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks that have already been announced must work well together to deliver health care in the best and most effective way.

Local control can be assured if health professionals and community members are involved in directing health care to where it’s needed most across their localities.

“It is important to have a mechanism for making the most of the resources that are available locally – the health professionals working in local communities, for example doctors and nurses and Aboriginal health workers, and the local knowledge,” Dr May said.

The health care reform agreement also meant greater transparency and accountability, she said.

Through regular reporting against a set of agreed performance indicators, rural people would know whether local control was working well in keeping people out of hospitals, helping people to manage their chronic conditions, or avoid developing them in the first place.

“Reporting by remoteness classification will be important for monitoring the effectiveness of the health reforms across Australia. Reductions in avoidable hospitalisations should be measurable in every small rural town in the region, not just in the cities and metropolitan centres,” she said.

“The ultimate goal is improved health and this is a good step in the right direction.”

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