Budget provides next opportunity to narrow the rural health gap

06 February 2011

Budget provides next opportunity to narrow the rural health gap
This year’s Federal Budget on May 10 offers another opportunity for the Gillard Government
to rectify the yawning gaps in rural health services that have become entrenched over many
years.
A detailed report produced by the NRHA shows a rural primary care deficit of $2.1 billion in
2006-07 – the most recent year for which the data are available. This is comprised of a
primary and aged care deficit of at least $2.9 billion, associated with a largely avoidable
hospital overspend of $829 million on people from rural and remote areas.
The NRHA’s report – Australia’s health system needs re-balancing: a report on the shortage
of primary care services in rural and remote areas – summarises the recent Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare report on the distribution of 56 per cent of recurrent spending
and details also the Alliance’s own estimates for the other 44 per cent.
Some significant investments in rural and remote health were announced in the last three
Federal Budgets and this should build further through Prime Minister Gillard’s regional
agreements with two of the rural independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.
“We welcome the unprecedented focus on regional areas – particularly the elements that will
improve health and wellbeing,” said Alliance Chair, Dr Jenny May. “The 31 member bodies
that we represent hope that further investment will lead to the eventual elimination of the rural
health deficit sooner, rather than later, in keeping with the Alliance’s vision of equal health
for all Australians by 2020.”
Key areas that require urgent attention include mental health, dental health and the funding of
Medicare Locals at a level that will allow them to operate effectively in rural and remote
areas. Aged care and the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are two other
areas that consistently merit targeted new expenditures in rural and remote areas.
“Some of the investments to turn around the deficit are in place, but much more needs to be
done, particularly in key areas of continuing unmet need. The next major opportunity is the
2011-12 Federal Budget,” said Dr May.