Alliance welcomes report on National Healthcare Agreement

08 June 2011

The National Rural Health Alliance has welcomed the release of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council’s National Healthcare Agreement: Performance report for 2009-10. The report shows a number of areas where there has been progress on national health reforms and reveals other areas where improvement is still required.
“The Alliance is particularly pleased to see that, where possible, the results are broken down to show how Australia’s health system is performing for people living in rural and remote areas, in comparison with the situation for people in major cities,” said Gordon Gregory, Executive Director of the Alliance.
The report confirms that important measures such as the incidence of potentially preventable hospitalisations increase with remoteness. This means that people in rural and remote areas are being admitted to hospital more frequently than their city cousins for conditions that could have been treated in the community, and hospital admission avoided, if there had been adequate access to the services of health professionals.
It also finds that older people in remote areas spend more time in hospital while waiting for access to aged care facilities. This highlights the need to improve services for the rapidly ageing rural and remote population so they can avoid unnecessary and prolonged hospitalisation.
“In general, reporting by remoteness classification provides the evidence needed to monitor the way that primary care reforms, such as the introduction of Medicare Locals, contribute to overcoming the monumental underspend of $2.4-2.7 billion a year on primary care in rural and remote communities,” Mr Gregory said.
The new Report also confirms that people in rural and remote areas believe their waiting times to get an appointment with a GP or specialist are unacceptably long. This week’s announcement of new MBS items for telehealth is good news in this respect and will help rural and remote Australians access specialists without the need to travel.
The COAG Reform Council has recommended that a number of improvements be made to data used for future reports. For rural people the most important of these is the recommendation to increase the number of performance indicators that can be reported on by degree of remoteness.
“Reliable evidence enables governments to identify and address health inequities in rural Australia,” Mr Gregory said. “Data on the successes and failures of our health system for people in rural and remote Australia will almost certainly lead to improved health outcomes for those people.”