FEDERAL Assistant Health Minister Dr David Gillespie has revealed Emeritus Professor Paul Worley will become Australia’s first National Rural Health Commissioner.
Dr Gillespie announced Professor Worley’s appointment of the new Commissioner, which was introduced by the Coalition government, at the Rural Medicines Australia Conference in Melbourne today.
“Professor Worley will be a determined, effective and passionate advocate for strengthening rural health outcomes across Australia,” Dr Gillespie said.
“I look forward to working collaboratively with him to progress regional and rural health reform.
“The federal Coalition government is dedicated to improving access to health services for everyone who calls regional, rural and remote Australia home.
“The appointment of our National Rural Health Commissioner is integral to achieving this outcome.”
Professor Worley has had a distinguished career in rural health, both as a practitioner and an academic and has practised as a GP in various locations.
Currently, he’s working at a rural practice in South Australia, 90km from Adelaide and from 2007 to 2017 was Dean of Medicine at Flinders University in the same state.
He has also held senior leadership roles with the Rural Doctors Association of South Australia and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine.
Dr Gillespie said at Flinders University, Professor Worley developed programs which are now recognised globally as models for establishment of rural medical education.
He said the new Commissioner also had a deep understanding of the work rural doctors do and has continued to work part-time as a GP in rural South Australia.
As the Commissioner, Professor Worley will consult with a wide range of health professionals and stakeholders to improve rural health policies and champion the cause of rural practice.
His first priority will be to develop National Rural Generalist Pathways, to provide training, recognition and appropriate remuneration for the complex demands on doctors working outside major cities.
Dr Gillespie said while developing pathways for rural doctors was a top priority, the Commissioner would also consider the needs of the nursing, dental health, pharmacy, Indigenous health, mental health, midwifery, occupational therapy, physical therapy and allied health workforce in rural areas.
The Commissioner will also be a member of the Federal Coalition Government’s Rural Health Stakeholder Roundtable and the Rural Health Distribution Working Group which is reviewing systems to encourage more doctors to regional and remote areas.
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) welcomed the appointment with outgoing President, Dr Ewen McPhee, saying Professor Worley’s extensive experience in rural healthcare and strong commitment to improving access to health services for rural and remote Australians makes him the “perfect appointment for this critical role”.
“His wide-ranging career experience means that he closely understands the many elements of the rural healthcare system, from doctors and other health professionals in remote communities, to the universities and other institutions charged with training our future doctors, right through to federal and state health policy-makers,” he said.
“These perspectives will serve him well in arriving at a ‘meeting of minds’ of all rural health stakeholders as we work together to build the rural health workforce and improve access to healthcare services in the bush.
“From his time in rural practice, Professor Worley will also have a strong appreciation of the significant combination of skills that all members of the rural healthcare team - doctors, nurses and other health professionals - bring to their community.
“He will also bring to the position strong recognition of the important role played by rural generalist doctors with a wide-range of advanced skills - not only in procedural areas like obstetrics, anaesthetics and general surgery, but also in non-procedural areas like advanced mental health and Indigenous health.”
As well as being a past president of the Rural Doctors Association of South Australia Professor Worley is also a former vice-president of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and a current Council Member of the AMA in South Australia.
Professor Worley was the Commonwealth appointed Chair of the Prevocational General Practice Placements Program from 2005 to 2009 and the John Flynn Scholarship Scheme from 2004 to 2007.
He is currently Executive Director Medical Services with the Country Health SA Local Health Network, a role in which he has strongly demonstrated his proactive and consultative approach to improving access to healthcare services in country communities.
Dr McPhee said his group looked forward to working with Professor Worley in his new role, particularly in progressing the development and implementation of the National Rural Generalist Pathway; one of the federal government’s first priorities for the new Commissioner.
“RDAA has advocated strongly for this pathway for many years, given it has enormous potential to deliver more of the next generation of doctors with advanced skills to rural and remote communities,” he said.
“It is wonderful to see this important initiative coming to fruition and we again commend the Federal Government for its ongoing support in this regard.
“We also look forward to assisting Professor Worley in his wider responsibilities as Commissioner to build all elements of the rural health workforce - including doctors, nurses and other health professionals - and to deliver to rural and remote communities the access to healthcare services that they truly deserve.”
Labor Shadow Health Minister Catherine King and her party congratulated Professor Paul Worley on his appointment as Australia’s first National Rural Health Commissioner.
“Labor has been a strong supporter of the National Rural Health Commissioner role, having fought for changes to ensure the role adequately supported Australians living in rural and remote areas,” she said.
“Professor Worley brings a significant amount of experience in rural health to the role.
“Significantly, Professor Worley will have the important task of overseeing the National Rural Generalist Pathway with the aim of getting more doctors with advanced skills to rural and remote communities.
”Remote and rural Australia experiences unique challenges - average life spans of women and men are, respectively, 2 years and 3.4 years lower than city dwellers and chronic disease levels, including diabetes, coronary heart disease, lung cancer, eye disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are considerably higher.
“At the same time, the ratio of health professionals is much lower than in the city areas.
“Labor looks forward to working with Professor Worley to improve the health outcomes of Australians living in rural Australia.”