For people who live in rural and remote areas, tonight’s Federal Budget promises good news on three fronts: dental care, aged care and disability services. For the news to be confirmed there will need to be ongoing Government commitment, wide ranging consultation, and the allocation of substantial extra resources as soon as fiscal conditions permit.
People in rural and remote communities should welcome the major shifts initiated. They should stay engaged and keep the pressure on to ensure that the policy journeys foreshadowed today are successfully completed tomorrow. With universal, national, fully-funded schemes for dental health, healthy ageing and aged care, and disability support, several of the gross inequities currently experienced by the people of rural and remote areas can be addressed.
These are three social policy areas in which it is better to arrive than to travel.
On dental health, the National Rural Health Alliance and others have recognised for a long time that positive change in dental care in rural and remote areas must start with workforce. The Government’s dental scheme, with incentives for up to 300 dentists to shift to rural and remote communities and (later) grants to help with purchase and fit-out of dental facilities, provides a good start. Extra support for the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year program, introduction of a similar graduate program for Oral Health Therapists from 2014, and oral health promotion are also useful building blocks. It is to be hoped that progress towards universal coverage can begin next year.
As was announced on 20 April, Government policy in a second key area is starting to move in a positive direction with the rebalancing of the aged care system. It is a greater challenge in rural and, especially, remote areas to keep people in their own homes as they become less independent. But the changes foreshadowed last month recognise the need to provide this choice wherever and whenever possible.
There is to be a focus on the early diagnosis of dementia, and extra resources for in-home care. The re-balancing of resources for low and high care will benefit rural areas, where there is a higher proportion of community aged care, compared with residential facilities. Particularly welcome is the promised focus of the new Workforce Compact on workforce pressures in rural and remote areas.
In the third major area, the Government will commit $1billion over four years to the first stage of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Starting in July 2013, 10,000 people will start to be assessed in ‘launch locations’ – hopefully including the sorts of pathways, from place to place, that rural people with a disability usually have to traverse.
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660