The Federal and NSW Nationals in Government have joined forces at Australia’s first Bilateral Regional Health Forum to decide how their combined investment of more than $2 billion can be maximised to boost rural healthcare.

Key Nationals such as Deputy Prime Minister and Member for Riverina Michael McCormack, Minister for Regional Services Mark Coulton and NSW Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor joined with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Health Natasha Maclaren-Jones and medical experts at the forum in Wagga Wagga.

The more than $2 billion comprises recent State and Federal commitments on workforce, primary care and mental health initiatives that were discussed at the forum.

The forum focused on measures to attract doctors to the bush and increase support for people with mental health concerns, in the current climate of severe drought and bushfires.

Mr McCormack said the Federal and NSW Nationals in Government will work collaboratively to ensure every dollar invested in rural and regional health benefits local communities.

“We’re implementing the $550 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy to give GPs more opportunities to train and practise in the regions, and give nurses and allied health professionals a greater role in delivering primary care,” Mr McCormack said.

“In partnership with Charles Sturt University, I turned the first sod on the new rural medical school in Orange which will create the next generation of qualified doctors who understand the specific health needs of regional communities to better care for children, adults and our ageing population.”

“The Nationals in Government consistently deliver for rural and regional Australia, backing projects that benefit the regions for years to come.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack

Mr Coulton said the Federal Government was delivering a scope of initiatives to inject more GPs into regional, rural and remote parts of New South Wales.

“As part of the Rural Generalist Pathway, we’re continuing to progress a ‘single employer’ model in rural areas, which will be a real boost for junior doctors when they are considering a career in rural medicine,” Mr Coulton said.

“It will provide job security during training, better access to leave and enable them to work in a range of health care settings.

“The health needs of our rural communities differ greatly and that’s why we are committed to developing a flexible and collaborative model which responds to local needs.

“In particular, what we’ve seen in the Murrumbidgee region and in Western NSW is a practical response and solution to doctor training and workforce challenges. We want to encourage and foster local leadership to enable rural communities to grow and be sustainable into the future.

“Additionally, our $62 million Rural Generalist Pathway is funding initiatives such as coordinated training for rural generalists, expansion of the Rural Junior Doctor Training Innovation Fund to provide early exposure to rural training and seeking sub-specialty recognition of rural generalism through the Medical Board of Australia.”

Mrs Taylor said suicide prevention was a joint priority for the NSW and Federal Nationals in Government, with people in rural and regional areas more likely to be impacted by suicide amidst the heavy stressors of drought and bushfires.

“We now have 27 counsellors and drought peer support workers who deliver farm gate counselling services across rural local health districts. They are funded as part of the NSW Government’s $1.8 billion investment in emergency drought relief,” Mrs Taylor said.

“Farm Gate counsellors travel the regions to talk to farmers, business owners and people in drought affected communities, so we can take mental health help right to the doorstep.”

The Federal and NSW Nationals in Government look forward to further forums to discuss health issues affecting communities across regional NSW.

A step forward

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the forum was a “real step in the right direction” to address the challenge of attracting doctors to the bush, a hurdle faced by rural and regional areas right across Australia.

“The NSW Government is investing $2.6 billion in 8,300 frontline health workers over the next four years, and close to 45 per cent of them will employed in regional areas of NSW,” Mr Hazzard said.

“Together with the Federal Government we’re rolling up our sleeves to work out how we can best share doctors across primary healthcare and hospital settings to meet the growing demand for health services.

“With support from the Federal Government we’re trialling a training model here in the Murrumbidgee region that has aspiring GPs working in both GP practices and hospitals to broaden their experience and develop the skills they’ll need to be a doctor in regional areas.

“A great example of what we’re already achieving is the Western NSW collaborative, which delivers high quality health services for those living in remote and rural Australia and addresses the shortfall of GPs and other health professionals in these areas.”