The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) and National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) have welcomed the progress of legislation within the Federal Parliament to create the role of National Rural Health Commissioner, with it having passed through the House of Representatives last night.
Both the Alliance and RDAA have commended the Federal Government on its creation of the role, saying it will be crucial in improving access to healthcare, and health professionals of all types, in rural and remote areas.
Federal Shadow Assistant Minister for Medicare, Tony Zappia MP, yesterday announced in Parliament that Labor will support the legislation, albeit with a number of amendments — particularly in relation to extending the timeframe under which the role will operate.
RDAA and the Alliance note assurances by the Federal Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie MP, that he would be inclined to lend his support to an extension of the role past its current funding to mid-2020.
We believe that while each individual Rural Health Commissioner should have a fixed term of engagement (ideally of 4-6 years), the role itself should be ongoing, and ideally this should be enshrined in the current legislation.
We have welcomed Minister Gillespie's emphasis that the Commissioner's role will be a broad one, encompassing the wider scope of health disciplines and critical areas within rural healthcare like Indigenous health and mental health.
While the first priority of the Commissioner will be to progress the development of a National Rural Generalist Pathway — to deliver more doctors with advanced skills to the bush — the role will also strongly entail the development of strategies to build the rural nursing and allied health workforce, and improve access to a wide range of nursing and allied health services in the bush.
To this end, we believe that those appointed as Commissioner — and the key deliverables expected of them — should reflect the changing challenges and priorities of the rural health sector over time. Importantly, anyone considered for appointment as Commissioner must have substantial credibility within the rural health sector.
We have also strongly welcomed earlier comments by Minister Gillespie that the Commissioner will be 'an independent advocate, giving [the Government] frank advice on regional and rural health reform and representing the needs and rights of regional, rural and remote Australia'.
We fervently hope that all sides of politics will support this legislation through the Senate, and that the inaugural National Rural Health Commissioner can commence in the role as soon as possible.