HEALTHY OPTIONS: Health Minister Jillian Skinner launches the NSW Rural Health Plan yesterday.
HEALTHY OPTIONS: Health Minister Jillian Skinner launches the NSW Rural Health Plan yesterday. Marc Stapelberg

Minister won't rule out replacing doctors with Telehealth

STATE Health Minister Jillian Skinner did not rule out replacing doctors with Telehealth video consultations at local hospitals while visiting Lismore yesterday.

Mrs Skinner launched the NSW Rural Health Plan: Towards 2021 at the University Centre for Rural Health and it was warmly received by those in attendance, including MP Thomas George.

The framework is aimed at improving rural, regional and remote health services and, in turn, the health of residents outside metropolitan areas. Strategies include enhancing the health workforce, improving rural "eHealth" and strengthening infrastructure, research and innovation.

Mrs Skinner said improvements had been made in recent years, citing hospital upgrades, increased services and extra health staff, but she noted there's still a long way to go.

"There's been improvements in things like infant mortality for Aboriginal communities (and) access to much improved health services for people - for example, with diseases such as cancer," she said.

"We've also invested in pain-management services and community-based palliative care for rural patients."

When asked what role the controversial Telehealth services might have in the Northern Rivers in coming years, Mrs Skinner said it would roll out in addition to extra health staff.

"You'll see more face-to-face, but even more opportunities for people to be linked to their healthcare through Telehealth," she said.

But Mrs Skinner could not say whether some smaller hospitals would lose staffed doctors in favour of video links to larger hospitals.

"Telehealth and video cameras are used almost throughout the state now, which provides a fantastic connection between those facilities and the areas where more complex treatment is provided," she said.

"Whether it actually replaces care beyond 10 at night, or supplements the services that are provided, it is a boon for communities."

The plan highlighted health challenges within the state, including increased smoking rates (especially while pregnant), higher chlamydia detections (especially among women) and increased alcohol intake.



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