The AMA today welcomed Opposition policy on the Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund (RMIF), which comes just days after a commitment from the Deputy Prime Minister to review the Fund, possibly before the election.
Chair of the AMA Rural Reference Group (RRG), Dr David Rivett, said today he was pleased that Monday's AMA Rural Health Crisis Summit in Canberra appeared to be already delivering benefits to country patients and communities.
"The RMIF was one of many initiatives to improve rural health discussed at the Summit, and it is great to see both sides of politics signalling their intentions to put some money and resources into health services for rural and regional Australia," Dr Rivett said.
"The RMIF has been under-utilised because it is wrapped up in too much red tape. "Communities seeking doctors simply cannot access the program. "The ALP policy announced today would simplify the process and allow more people and more communities to make use of it.
"At the moment, there is too much paperwork involved in applying for RMIF money, and often consultants must be employed to help wade through the bureaucracy.
"Another deficiency in the program is that only relatively small towns are eligible for funding, and the RMIF also excludes private practices from applying.
"Labor has promised to lift the population threshold for eligibility from 10,000 population to 20,000 population, boost available funding to $500,000 per application, and allow private practices to apply on the condition they train medical students.
"These are sensible changes that should make the RMIF more effective in bringing much-needed medical services to country Australia." However, the AMA encourages Labor to build further on this promise if it wishes to make a real long-term difference to rural health.
"This policy is a welcome band-aid, but rural health needs much more than a band-aid right now - it needs a blood transfusion," Dr Rivett said. "We look forward to seeing more detail from Deputy Prime Minister Vaile on his promises regarding the RMIF and rural health, but we hope it is significant.
"Without major commitment from both sides of politics, rural health will soon be a corpse beyond resuscitation."