Rural Aussies don't have equity to access health services

ALL rural health professionals want is equity for people living outside the major cities, National Rural Health Alliance chairwoman Lesley Barclay said on Wednesday.

Ms Barclay joined more than 50 industry leaders across 34 different rural health organisations to launch the alliance's election charter in Canberra.

She said it remained an unfortunate fact that there was a $2 billion deficit across the nation when it came to rural health spending.

And despite rural health issues such as access to doctors and the tyranny of distance affecting 30% of all Australians, most of those who live in the big cities remain unaware of the challenges in country Australia.

Ms Barclay said rural Australians did not have equity when it came to accessing the normal health services that those in major cities expected.

"What we are seeking is for rural health to be made a priority in the election - we want the policies to be re-balanced to create equity," she said.

"We're not seeking a massive change in how much money is spent, but simply looking for an equitable spend - for rural health to be treated as equal."

The gathering heard from Labor's Dr Andrew Leigh (representing Health Minister Tanya Plibersek), Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health Dr Andrew Laming and Greens health spokesman Senator Richard Di Natale.

But despite each party being given a chance to pitch their policies on rural health to the group, only Sen Di Natale could release any details of a plan for the sector.

Dr Leigh spruiked the Labor Government's existing achievements, and promised a "technical working group" to address long-standing problems with the doctor's incentive classification system.

Dr Laming said the Coalition would soon release details of a health policy, but said any new investments in infrastructure or improvements to rural health would be pursuant to the Coalition seeing the books if it won the election.

However, Sen Di Natale promised up to $450 million for rural hospitals and a further $200 million to go to rural clinics to help improve infrastructure.

Sen Di Natale, a member of the Senate inquiry that examined the classification system, said an overhaul was long overdue, promising to do what the minor party could.

Despite promises of more to come before poll day, the alliance will be examining in detail all the political parties' promises against an online election scorecard.

The peak rural health group has created the scorecard to rate political responses against 35 questions on seven key policy areas.

It will be updated throughout the election campaign online at http://www.ruralhealth.org.au



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