AMA calls for better funding and resources for rural and regional Australian health services

12 Sep 2019

AMA president, Dr Tony Bartone, has called on the Federal, State and Territory Governments to work together to provide funding, resourcing, and planning decisions to give rural and remote Australians better access to quality care, in response to the stories revealed in this week’s Four Corners program on ABC TV.

Dr Bartone said that Australia has one of the best health systems in the world, with a highly trained and skilled workforce, but not all Australians have equal access to all the benefits.

“Australians living outside of the cities (around 29 per cent of the population according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) have higher rates of major diseases like cancer and diabetes, experience worse health outcomes generally, access Medicare at lower rates, and often have to travel long distances for extended periods to receive appropriate specialised care,” Dr Bartone said.

“Our hardworking rural doctors work very long and sometimes unusual hours, many are constantly on call, they provide high quality care leading multi-disciplinary health care teams, and they are committed to their patients and local communities.

“But they are working in environments and with equipment that are not keeping pace with modern and complex medicine, and the unique health and emergency demands of remote and isolated communities.”

Dr Bartone has said that rural health is at a crisis point, due to an urgent need for significant investment in rural hospitals, equipment and medical and health workforce.

The 2019 AMA Rural Health Issues Survey of rural doctors found that:

  • There is need for urgent and major extra funding and resources to support improved staffing levels at rural hospitals;
  • There is need for significant new funding to ensure that rural hospitals have modern facilities and equipment; and
  • There is need for coordinated medical workforce planning.

Dr Bartone acknowledged the Federal Government’s recent actions with the National Medical Workforce Strategy and the National Rural Generalist Pathway, but so much more needs to be done to address the immediate funding and resourcing problems in rural and remote Australia.

“Equity and access cannot be second rate depending on your location,” Dr Bartone said.

“The incidents shown on Four Corners were tragic and avoidable, but they were also rare and isolated. Our most sincere sympathies go to the families and everybody affected by these events. We need to learn from the system failures to ensure they do not happen again.”

The AMA will write to Health Ministers demanding that rural health funding be a priority for the next meetings of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the COAG Health Council.

Read the full media release here.