New Office Of Rural Health: A Small Voice In The Wilderness? Australia
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) has praised Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon MP,
for recognising the need to address the rural health crisis in Australia, but it is concerned the newly
created Office of Rural Health will not have the clout, resources and authority to tackle the crisis.
"We're pleased to see Minister Roxon acting to create an office within the Australian Department of Health and
Ageing solely concerned with improving health outcomes for rural Australians. We are also pleased that she has
invited RDAA to provide input to the Office's work" RDAA President, Dr Peter Rischbieth, said.
"But at the end of
the day if all the new Office can do is shuffle paper around it's a pointless bureaucratic exercise.
"What we need is an Office with clout-one that is at senior Divisional level within the Department. The Office
currently proposed doesn't have the authority to deliver the mandate for reform needed to turn around the rural
health crisis. It faces the risk of being no more than window dressing. Its voice-and that of rural health-
consequently is in real danger of being lost in the wilderness of bureaucracy.
"By the Minister's own count there are over 60 rural incentive schemes currently in place which aim to get more
health professionals to the bush-but these are being stymied by red tape and duplication and are failing to make
any significant contribution to building rural health workforce numbers. One of the first tasks to be undertaken by
the Office will be reviewing these programs. This review needs to be undertaken before the next Federal Budget
round, not in 12 months time as suggested by the Minister, so that initiatives can be implemented urgently to start
addressing the rural workforce crisis.
"The recent Government audit into Australia's shortage of rural health professionals confirmed what RDAA and
rural doctors have been saying for a long time-that there is a dire shortage of health professionals in rural and
remote Australia. RDAA and other health organisations have calculated that rural Australia needs at least 1000
additional doctors and at least an additional 15,000 other health professionals just to ensure basic access to
healthcare in the bush. Given the dire health workforce shortage in rural Australia we urge Minister Roxon to direct
her Department to establish the Office of Rural Health as a Division-level post within the Department, with the clout
and resources needed to turn the crisis in rural health around.
"The 34% of Australians who live in the bush receive only 20% of Medicare rebates and are serviced by 15% of the
medical workforce. Research has shown that less access to healthcare contributes to worse health outcomes in
rural Australia. Compared to urban areas, people who live in the bush have up to four years lower life expectancy,
20% higher mortality rates from all causes, and lower survival rates for cardiovascular disease and cancer. These
disturbing statistics should be enough on their own to convince the Minister to do more than set up a toothless
tiger. The Office of Rural Health needs clear goals, adequate resources, and clear lines of accountability. It must
also have the scope it needs to produce real outcomes to improve access to healthcare for all rural Australians."