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Some rural health reaction on the budget

You can read the announcements on regional spending (many of which pertain to rural health) in the Ministerial statement found here.

Below is some preliminary reaction from leaders in rural and remote health.

Professor Sabina Knight, Director of the Mt Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health (and a member of the former National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission)

Overall no surprises in general. I’m pleased to see the measures in mental health include early intervention, employment and accommodation support.

Care coordination through Medicare Locals or another NGO is listed – but not case management, which will be needed. This may be language – it’s not clear.  Some of this will take time as the start up of Medicare Locals will take time.

Many more early child health nurses than are currently available will be needed to implement the investment of $11.0 million over 5 years in building strong and healthy kids, to help build resilience and identify emerging mental health problems early, including the development of a health check for children at three years.

The announcement of Dental Interns is a good response to building a workforce for public dental health services.

Tackling the private health insurance rebate is a good step forward.

On the broader issues, regional distribution of training, apprenticeships, mentor programs should benefit rural and remote Australia.

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Rural Doctors Association of Australia statement: ticks for mental health and hospital funding, but  urgent work needed on rural doctor shortage

Significant day-to-day frustrations of rural doctors in accessing adequate mental health services for their patients could be eased following the announcement in tonight’s federal budget of additional mental health funding.

Another potential win for rural patients is the additional funding for regional hospital and health service infrastructure, which should assist rural doctors in various locations to get patients with acute and chronic conditions into regional hospitals in shorter timeframes.

“Rural doctors across Australia are intimately involved in their communities—they share the frustrations of patients with mental illness, and their families, about the lack of access to available mental health care services and limited opportunities for ongoing management of these chronic conditions” President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), Dr Paul Mara, said.

“Rural doctors and their patients need better support to ensure that ongoing mental health management, and not solely crisis management, is available around the clock, both in rural practice and hospital settings, in collaboration with other mental health professionals. It is also important that some of this funding goes into preventative mental health initiatives—and the education and training of doctors, nurses and other health professionals inmental health skills—at the local level.

“We question, however, whether the Government’s reliance on rolling out a substantial amount of this additional funding under the yet to be established Medicare Locals will result in the optimum outcomes.

“The injection of additional infrastructure funding into regional hospitals and health services is also appropriate, given that manyregional and smaller hospitals across Australia require urgent upgrades.

“High quality and adequately staffed regional hospitals are essential in providing support for doctors working in smaller rural communities. Improving hospital and health service facilities in regional centres will improve access to hospital care for patients in surrounding smaller communities, and will help to attract to regional centres more highly qualified specialists who in many circumstances then provide outreach services to the smaller communities.

“With the growing expectation on rural practices and doctors to provide rural clinical training places to more medical students and young doctors, there is also a need to further assist these smaller practices to expand their infrastructure.

“Most existing rural doctors are rapidly approaching retirement age, and there is still enormous difficulty in attracting young doctors into rural practice to take their place. We must urgently address this issue of workforce if rural and remote communities are to have sustainable and viable rural health services into the future.

“To this end, we welcome the announcement of a new regional health agency. We have felt for many years that there has been inadequate representation of rural issues within successive governments and departments.

“For example, we continue to be dismayed at the significant anomalies within the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (Remoteness Areas) system, and proposed changes to after-hours care arrangements, both of which only make it harder to attract doctors to smallrural communities.

“We look forward to working constructively with the regional health agency and Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon to implement sound policy initiatives that attract, recruit and retain much-needed doctors andother health professionals into rural and remote communities as soon as possible.”

***

Statement from Rural Health Workforce Australia: Workforce the key to effective mental health package

Rural Health Workforce Australia has welcomed the boost in funding for mental health services announced in tonight’s Federal Budget.

“We expect this will be good news for rural communities where the impact of floods, bushfires and drought magnify the impact on mental health,” says RHWA Chief Executive Officer, Dr Kim Webber.

“The challenge of course is ensuring that rural people get their fair share of services, given their greater needs. For example, suicide rates in rural and remote areas are higher than those in major cities.”

The Federal Government’s $2.2 billion mental health package includes extra funding for mental health professionals, housing, mentoring and coordinated services provided through Medicare Locals.

Dr Webber says the delivery of local services needs to be supported by proper workforce planning to address shortages of psychologists and social workers in rural and remote areas.

“Early intervention is critical in mental health and this relies on a well-supported workforce. Without the right people in the right places, we will continue to see needs rise,” she says.

“Our organisation is hopeful that the new Rural Health Agency announced in the Budget will play a key role in ensuring that resources such as these are fairly allocated to country people.”

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