Representatives of the National Rural Health Alliance's 37 member bodies gathered yesterday in Canberra for the first day of CouncilFest 2015. They are rural and remote health consumers, service providers and health professionals from across Australia. Their challenge is to ensure that the Alliance's priorities accurately reflect the current realities of health and wellbeing in rural and remote areas.
The centrepiece of the first day's activities was a discussion with Martin Bowles, Secretary of the Department of Health. Mr Bowles impressed Councillors with his obvious determination to use data from and about the health sector to provide much-needed strategic national leadership.
The Alliance is well-placed to understand the particular difficulties of collecting and analysing data for rural and, especially, for remote areas and will continue to provide Mr Bowles and his Department with every assistance in the matter.
The discussion with Mr Bowles included reference to the importance of dealing with the social, cultural and ecological determinants of health and wellbeing. In the situation where perhaps 70% of health inequity is a consequence of the social determinants of health, risk factors and 'place', one of the challenges for a Health Department is how to engage with those powerful issues.
Donna Murray, CEO of Indigenous Allied Health Australia, updated her colleagues on developments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Islander health, including the imminent release of the plan to operationalise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy. Donna pointed out the importance of consistent, sustainable and ongoing funding for the community controlled health sector and the critical services it provides in areas such as smoking, sexually transmitted infections, and eye health. The bipartisan support provided for the Close the Gap campaign and the Indigenous Health Strategy suggests that such long-term support may be politically practicable.
Lyndon Seys, CEO of Alpine Health, informed his colleagues on Council of some of the contemporary problems confronted by Australia's 120 Multi-Purpose Services. Each of them has been developed to meet local needs in health, aged and community care and has the advantage of pooled resources from all three areas. Resourcing of the MPSs is threatened by changes in the separate silos of health, aged and community care - with inadequate recognition of their success.
The next two days of the Alliance's annual five-day meeting will be devoted to discussion of priority policy issues. Council of the NRHA will meet with over 50 parliamentarians on Monday to exchange views and emphasise the capacity of the Alliance to inform and assist parliamentarians in their work for the people of rural and remote Australia.
Gordon Gregory (Chief Executive) 02 6285 4660
Tim Kelly (Chairperson) 0438 011 383