Federal Nationals Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan and Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health Dr Anne Webster have undertaken a three-day tour of the Mid North Coast that included site visits and round-table forums with local Health and Aged Care providers and educators.
Three forums were held – in Port Macquarie, Kempsey, and Coffs Harbour. The aim was to capture as many local perspectives as possible.
Access to adequate Regional Health Care has remained in the top three priority areas for Cowper constituents since Mr Conaghan’s election in 2019.
Issues include a lack of GPs, with concerns around replacing those who are at retirement age, finding specialists and paediatricians, and providing the necessary support to cater for our aging population, including those in Aged Care facilities, have been consistent over that time.
Mr Conaghan said it was beneficial to have Dr Webster in the electorate to hear from our passionate local health professionals, and to discuss the steps that are being taken to address some of the health pressure points across regional and rural Australia.
“It would be wrong to say the issues discussed did not exist when we were in Government, because of course they did. But I can confidently say that many areas have been compounded to breaking point in the past 18 months due to a large variety of factors.
“It’s a fact that some recent Labor policy changes have been made with the metropolitan areas in mind, and the impacts are being felt hard in regions like ours. Changes like the recent Distribution Priority Area updates that have opened the door for International Medical Graduate Doctors to leave the regions for peri-urban settings, with exits from regions increasing by 57 per cent in the first 6 months since Minister Butler’s policy change. This has been a major factor in a reduction in GP clinics right across regional Australia, including our electorate,” Mr Conaghan said.
A common link across every forum and site visit was the worsening workforce shortage and the impact that is having not just on prospective patients, but on local health and aged care providers and their staff. Staff burnout and an inability to open facilities at capacity were common discussion points.
Mr Conaghan and Dr Webster agreed this was the single connecting issue not just across all levels of health care, but also across the many sectors that feed into it.
The need for employers to be able to source affordable housing and adequate childcare placements to attract staff was tabled at each forum and site visit, with these two issues having been raised previously in meetings across small and large business groups in recent months.
Unregistered NDIS providers were listed as a major contributing factor to the available workforce problem. The lack of regulation around licensing criteria, as well as exorbitant hourly rates on offer when compared to the Health Care sector, were of particular concern.
“We heard from every provider that they had lost staff to NDIS as they couldn’t compete with the hourly rate that some are able to charge without needing additional certification. The Federal Government is currently robbing Peter to pay Paul in this space and it’s simply not sustainable.
“We as National Party members will work collaboratively with all sides of government to try to address these issues on behalf of the Regional and Rural communities that we represent.” Mr Conaghan said.