NEW laws have finally passed parliament to establish an advocate dedicated to rural health.
Increasing numbers of general practitioners (GP’s), to improve access to healthcare for people in the bush, is top of the new Rural Health Commissioner’s agenda, according to Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie.
The legislation, passed by both Houses yesterday, delivers on an election promise made by the Nationals in June 2016.
Mr Gillespie, who worked as a doctor for 20 years, mostly as a gastroenterologist in regional hospitals, said the Commissioner was needed to address a range of disadvantages for the one third of Australians who live outside metropolitan areas.
He said regional people generally experience higher rates of chronic disease, have shorter life expectancy and higher rates of preventable cancers, face difficulties sourcing fresh food, with compounding factors of lower incomes, and fewer educational and employment opportunities.
Mr Gillespie said lack of training for doctors in the bush was “the most serious issue” for the regional health sector.
“For those living in rural, regional and remote Australia, finding services can often be difficult, if not impossible,” he said.
Mr Gillespie told parliament when he introduced the Bill in February that the Coalition’s the National Rural Generalist Pathway initiative policy is designed to tackle the doctor shortage.
“It is widely recognised that rural generalists often have advanced training and a broader skill set than is required by doctors practising in metropolitan centres,” he said.
Rural generalists often have broader skill sets than is required in metropolitan areas, while working long hours in isolated areas. The Commissioner will investigate “appropriate remuneration” for doctors working in more challenging rural areas.
“In many instances, they perform duties in areas such as general surgery, obstetrics, anaesthetics and mental health,” Mr Gillespie said.
“They not only work longer hours but also are frequently on call after hours in acute care settings, such as accident and emergency and hospital admitted patient care.”
Mr Gillespie said a nation wide search is underway and a new Commissioner will be selected shortly. The commissioner will be appointed for a period of two years, with a reappointment up until 30 June 2020.