Iain Curry

Review should guide government on rural health, says expert

A WIDE review of Australia's health workforce programs completed under the Labor Government should guide the Coalition's efforts to address problems in rural health, an expert says.

The Mason Review recommended numerous new efforts to address the long-standing access issues in remote health.

And while a report from the Grattan Institute said pharmacists and new physician assistants should help fill the gap, Professor Lesley Barclay said the Mason Review provided a better response to addressing problems.

Prof Barclay, the head of University of Sydney's University Centre for Rural Health, is also president of the National Rural Health Alliance.

Speaking under her "researcher hat", Prof Barclay said the Mason Review should provide the main framework if the Coalition wanted to address health inequalities in the bush.

While she said the Grattan Institute proposal was interesting, it was "hard to imagine that GPs and their assistants are the only solution".

"For many people in rural areas, the population numbers simply do not support a model for private practice, to support small businesses in health," she said.

"Unless you have a large population, small business simply does not work."

Prof Barclay said the use of both private practices and "salaried professionals", as recommended by the review, was one way to help fill access to health gaps in remote areas.

She was also said using unregistered physician assistants to do the work of qualified doctors was not a solution, as rural patients deserved qualified doctors as much as other people.

"The review was very well consulted, was a sophisticated approach, and certainly I'd hope the government would be considering it as part of their approach," Pro Barclay said.

She said the NRHA would also seek a meeting with new Health Minister Peter Dutton, to discuss the new government's approach to rural health.

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