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Rural health reform moves from conception to delivery

Twelve months of delivery and where to next as Dr Gillespie resuscitates the regions 

Fleets of the latest jets capable of providing 24/7 emergency aeromedical evacuations. A 25 metre long cardiovascular clinic on the back of a K200 prime mover. High-tech simulated learning environments, delivered by leading clinicians, for the fresh faced next generation of health professionals. 

Fine examples of the arsenal ready, willing and able to combat a growing health care divide, reinforced by our Coalition Government making a bigger contribution to Australian health and medical research and innovation than ever before.

Australians have always looked outside of the box to find innovative solutions to an age old problem of delivering better health care to those in need and to those that have been isolated by distance. 

It is hard to believe that a year has come and gone in the portfolio. The 30 plus years I spent as a practitioner has served me well in preparation! 

I was pleasantly greeted by a former patient recently in Wauchope, eyes gleaming with a broad smile as she said, “Dr Gillespie, my local member, you know the system as you do me - inside and out.”

Of course I am very grateful to currently be part of the ministry as the Assistant Minister for Health, especially as it seems a rare occurrence these days to have ministers appointed to portfolios in which they have deep prior understanding.

A true highlight of the past year has been to see and hear the stories of practitioners who have overcome phenomenal obstacles and given such incredible service to their communities in their delivery of quality care.

Funding for health to states for their public hospitals systems is at an all-time high under the Coalition, as well as approval for new drugs onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Increasing access to medical needs of rural families and communities is one of the top priorities along with improving mental health, which will continue to unfold over the coming year.

It will be a year of innovation and opportunity as the implementation of our reforms accelerates – both national health reforms, and policies and programs targeted to rural health. 

I was proud and privileged to be the Minister who introduced to Parliament the legislation to create the Commissioner – an Australian first. It will be a statutory position, so the Commissioner can work independently and transparently and provide objective advice.

The Commissioner’s first priority will be to define and develop more Rural Generalist Pathways. Rural Generalists do much more than GPs in city practice. 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. We all know that these extra demands require Rural Generalists to have extra training and skills – but until now, that has only been recognised by some states and not the Commonwealth. That is about to change. 

Another big issue to be addressed over the next 12 months is the shortage of doctors, nurses and other health workers in rural and regional areas. The uneven distribution of doctors has become –  to use medical terminology – both endemic and chronic. 

Attracting and retaining more doctors and health professionals in country areas is essential if we are to improve access to health care around the coast and in the bush. Uneven distribution is the issue, not overall lack of doctors and the Coalition is looking at the short, medium and long term.

We have put into place programs and policies such as:

  • incentive programs to encourage doctors to move to rural and regional areas
  • an investment of $93 million in redesigned health workforce support programs
  • $28.5 million to establish 26 new Regional Training Hubs across rural and regional Australia
  • $26 million for three new University Departments of Rural Health

The Coalition’s Integrated Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program is blazing new trails in this area – giving medical students and Junior Doctors greater opportunity to live, study and work in rural and regional Australia. These hubs will work with local health services to create more positions for vocational training – allowing young doctors to continue their training in rural areas after university into postgraduate medical training. As they won’t have to pull up stumps and move to a city for their later training, they will be more likely to stay working in a rural area.

As well as these programs targeted solely at rural health, rural communities will benefit from the Government’s broader long term national health plan to roll out over the next few years. Our reforms are designed to create better access to health services, including mental health services; greater collaboration between health professionals, to put the patient at the centre of care; more efficient use of health resources; and reduced inequality.

The year has gone quickly and I am looking forward to another productive year as work towards ensuring your communities are able to access high-quality health care no matter where you live. 

Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Assistant Minister for Health
Member for Lyne

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