“Australia’s first Rural Health Commissioner has the potential to be the catalyst for transformational change for the 7 million people who live in rural and remote areas,” National Rural Health Alliance CEO, David Butt, said today.
Legislation to establish the Rural Health Commissioner as a statutory office holder is being introduced into parliament this week.
The Rural Health Commissioner is a new role – an election commitment – to champion the cause of rural services. The Office Holder will work with rural, regional and remote communities, the health sector, universities, specialist training colleges and across all levels of government to improve rural health policies.
“The Alliance sees the Commissioner as providing leadership in unlocking the social and economic potential of the 7 million people who live outside the major cities of Australia,” Mr Butt said.
“That’s good for individuals, families and communities, but it’s also good for Australia because we can improve productivity and stimulate economic growth.
“The Alliance is committed to working with the Commissioner on ways to reduce the disparities in physical and mental health outcomes between those 7 million people and those who live in metropolitan areas.
“Currently, poorer access to health services results in poorer health outcomes. That covers the whole spectrum of health – promotion of good health and wellbeing, prevention of illness, early intervention, particularly in general practice and primary health care, and more specialised treatment when needed.
“But because people are not getting that earlier access to services they are often diagnosed late, when illnesses are further advanced, they may have complications, and they may need to undergo considerable personal and financial disruption to access the services they need.”
Mr Butt said that, to be fully effective, the Commissioner would need to engage with people who live in rural and remote areas and who have first-hand experience of the challenges of rural and remote health.
“That means working with rural, regional and remote communities, the health sector, universities, specialist training colleges and across all levels of Government to improve rural health policies” Mr Butt said.
“I note that the Minister is anxious to see the Commissioner commence work on development of the National Rural Generalist Pathway to improve training for doctors.
“The Alliance supports this, but improving health is about more than just access to doctors. We also need to see allied health, nursing, mental health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals benefit from access to better education, training and support.
“It will be important that the Commissioner’s work be focused on a few key priorities – not on a very broad agenda which traverses all of rural and remote health. It will be up to organisations such as the Alliance and its members to ensure those broader issues and considerations are kept in the public eye.
“In other words, the sector cannot expect the Commissioner to be all things to all people and all issues – we all still have important roles to play to ensure rural and remote health is recognised and responded to as one of the nation’s top health priorities.
“And we must never forget that at the heart of this, communities have health needs that must be identified, recognised and addressed. We must never forget that access to better health is for the benefit of the people who live in rural and remote Australia,” Mr Butt said.