ESTABLISHING Australia’s first ever National Rural Health Commissioner will help to overcome deficiencies in delivering quality health services to country communities, says NSW Nationals MP and Assistant Health Minister Dr David Gillespie.
Last week Dr Gillespie introduced legislation into the House of Representatives, aiming to establish the new Commissioner as part of a $4.4 million commitment by the Coalition government to improve health outcomes in rural and remote communities.
Dr Gillespie said the legislation marked, “an incredible and historic occasion” for the Coalition, Nationals and “the third of our population that call regional, rural and remote Australia home”.
“This is really a historic occasion for our nation,” the Lyne MP said.
“Improving access to quality health care for people - no matter where they live - is a priority for this Coalition government.
“As a medical practitioner who has worked for more than 20 years as a doctor in regional Australia, I am so proud and privileged to be here today to deliver this crucial commitment.”
Dr Gillespie said his professional background meant he understood what doctors, nurses, dentists, allied health workers, pharmacists, indigenous health workers, mental health workers and midwives “are up against”.
“We understand the needs of Australians in regional, rural and remote Australia,” he said.
“We understand that it takes a toughness and a boldness, coupled with a deep sensitivity, to work in health in rural and remote areas.
“We are a nation that has overcome geographic challenges, having one of the largest land masses and the largest search and rescue regions in the world.”
Dr Gillespie said the commissioner would be someone who had extensive experience within the rural health sector; was capable of collaborating and consulting closely with a broad range of stakeholders; and had a passion for improving health outcomes in regional, rural and remote Australia.
He said the role would be appointed for a period of two years, with a reappointment up until June 30, 2020.
As a part of the role, the Commissioner will be required to submit a report to the responsible minister to outline findings and recommendations for consideration by the government, he said.
“This bill is an important step forward for regional, rural and remote health in Australia,” he said.
The move by Dr Gillespie was welcomed by a range of rural MPs from various states; including WA Liberal Melissa Price who said the new Commissioner would strike important reforms to regional and rural health in Australia.
“The people of regional, rural and remote Australia are the heart and soul of our country, but their health outcomes are often diminished due to their remoteness and reduced access to health services,” she said.
“The role of the National Rural Health Commissioner is to be an independent advocate, giving us frank advice on regional and rural health reform and representing the needs and rights of regional, rural and remote Australia.”
Dr Gillespie said around one-third of Australians lived outside metropolitan areas and about two per cent of the population lived in remote and very remote locations.
He said compared to metropolitan areas, rural and remote Australians generally experienced higher rates of chronic disease; had a shorter life expectancy; faced higher health risk factors like higher rates of smoking, drinking and obesity; and had lower incomes but faced some higher living costs, difficulties sourcing fresh food, harsher environmental conditions and relative social isolation.
But the government’s commitment would ensure regional, rural and remote communities had a champion to advocate on their behalf, to receive the support they need to deliver health services to local people, he said.
“This is all guided by a deep-lying principle that every Australian should have the right to access a high-quality standard of health care, no matter where they live,” he said.
“To this end, this bill will pave the way to establish Australia's first-ever National Rural Health Commissioner.
“The Commissioner is an integral part of our broader agenda to reform rural health in this nation.
“The position will be independent and impartial - a fearless champion.”