Valued at a modest $340 million over four years, implementation of the Coalition's health policy, launched this week, would nevertheless fill some current gaps in services for people in rural and remote Australia.
Lesley Barclay, Chairperson of the NRHA, described the Coalition's proposal for funding for additional GP consultation rooms for supervising registrars and medical students in rural and remote locations as a welcome back-up to the proposed doubling of the practice incentive payment for teaching in general practices.
"We also applaud the proposed investment in additional scholarships for nursing and allied health, both for areas of particular clinical need (eg diabetes) and for country locations," she said.
Given the importance of illness prevention and health promotion, the extent to which the Coalition's focus appears to be on hospitals and medicines is surprising. However there are also good proposals for stronger primary care, especially through rural general practice, with a commitment to 'localism' in the management and operation of hospitals that will hopefully be extended to primary care through Coalition support for Medicare Locals.
The Alliance welcomes the fact that there is now bipartisan support for the McKeon Review recommendation that there needs to be particular investment in rural and remote health research.
The Coalition's health policy makes it clear that, if in government, it would continue to provide strong in-principle support for a shared electronic health record for patients. Given the particular benefits such a record will provide for people in country areas, this is an important commitment.
Another welcome aspect of the policy is that the child dental benefits program (Grow Up Smiling) and the arrangements under the National Partnership Agreement for adult public dental services would be honoured if the Coalition forms government. Many people, including those in rural and remote areas who have real problems accessing dental services, will be pleased to see the Coalition's statement that implementation of these two dental schemes will "inform the expansion of Medicare dental services more broadly" and will want to study the fine print on this.
Additional places for medical interns in private hospitals and other non-traditional settings are welcome and the Coalition's suggestion that there be a co-ordinated system for intern places makes a lot of sense.
Such documents as the one released this week will always be criticised for what they fail to address and the absence of any specific initiatives relating to Indigenous health and mental health will hopefully be covered by the Coalition through announcements yet to be made. It is expected that the Alliance's Election Scorecard will soon reflect commitments by the Coalition relating to rural health and wellbeing in a number of portfolio areas.
While the Coalition's health policy has little specific emphasis on the needs of people in rural and remote areas, country people stand to benefit from recommitment to widespread national programs like the NDIS, aged care reform, the rollout of high speed broadband, and the funding of schools according to educational need.
Lesley Barclay - Chair: 0412 282 801
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660