AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, today urged the major parties to copy the AMA's rural health policies to give country Australians some hope that the next Federal Government will resolve the widespread crisis confronting rural health services.
Dr Capolingua said there has been relative silence on rural health this election campaign while rural and regional communities watch the range and quality of their health services further erode.
Dr Capolingua and Chair of the AMA's Rural Reference Group, Dr David Rivett, were at Batemans Bay District Hospital on the NSW south coast today to talk about the AMA's rural health policies.
"Rural health is in crisis and in dire need of some big announcements from the major parties," Dr Capolingua said.
Labor and the Coalition have both committed to reform the Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund, and Labor has offered ongoing support for the Specialist Obstetrician Locum Scheme and promised to increase the number of John Flynn Scholarships for undergraduate students, while the Coalition has committed that half the increased GP training places will be allocated to rural and regional practices.
Dr Capolingua said country Australians should have the same access to quality health care and well-resourced hospitals as people who live in the city.
"Rural health care depends on a strong primary health care workforce and a strong public hospital system working together," Dr Capolingua said.
"You can't have one without the other.
"Every day we see more and more health services disappearing from country areas because there simply aren't the resources to support the infrastructure and workforce needed to provide quality patient care.
"Fewer and fewer medical graduates are choosing a career in rural health, so greater incentives are needed to get them to pursue country practice.
"We have to train and deploy Australian trained doctors to serve rural Australia.
"If our ageing rural medical workforce continues to leave medical practice at the current rate, the task of replacing them will become almost impossible.
"We need to retain the rural doctors out there."
In September, the AMA released its rural policy paper, Bridging the Gap
Last month, the AMA and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) released a joint Rural Rescue Package
outlining the critical workforce problem in rural health and a plan of action to get more doctors into rural Australia.
The AMA is calling on both major parties to put forward their plans to fix rural health, and invites them to incorporate Bridging the Gap
and the Rural Rescue Package
in their policies.
The AMA believes that the Coalition and Labor must at the very least commit to:
• Significant funding to rebuild country hospital infrastructure. The AMA estimates that the Federal Government needs to invest an extra $2 billion over five years (matched by the States and Territories) in rural hospital funding,
• Programs to encourage young doctors to work in rural practice including scholarships and HECS relief,
• Proper funding for the medical specialist outreach program to allow the program to continue its good work into the future,
• Better funding for Patient Assisted Travel Schemes to allow rural Australians equal access to health care as people living in metropolitan centres, and
• A significant package of incentives to encourage doctors to work in rural Australia. The AMA/RDAA Rural Rescue Package
calls for approximately $300 million a year to be invested in workforce incentives to ensure that rural areas have access to a viable medical workforce.