Lack of workers hurts rural health outcomes

Rural, regional and remote communities need better investment into the healthcare workforce, according to NSW Farmers.

Sarah Thompson, a NSW Farmers member and retired occupational therapist, said country communities experienced a lower level of access to health services, and called for investment into long-term health workforce growth.

“Rural health is not something you can solve by throwing money at infrastructure, which in itself is needed, we need more people doing the jobs,” Mrs Thompson said.

“Populations are growing as people move away from busy capital cities like Sydney, and COVID-19 has seemingly accelerated this trend.

“We recognise and appreciate the funding that has been invested in regional health, particularly to deliver important hospital infrastructure and equipment, but we need an equal focus on building the number of health professionals working within these facilities and provide services across the community.”

Mrs Thompson said rural and remote areas needed a commitment from State and Commonwealth governments to increase the number of local health professionals who can provide a 24/7 service, both in GP surgeries and multi-purpose health centres.

According to the RFDS rural and remote communities have three times the prevalence of avoidable chronic disease and see doctors at half the rate of those who live in cities.

“The push for more health workers in the bush must include allied health professionals, who deliver the important primary care, and interventions for farmers and their communities including aged care, mental health counselling, palliative care, physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy,” Mrs Thompson said.

“Telehealth has helped overcome some of the geographical barriers to health care, but this service must complement rather than replace the local delivery of health – no Australian should go without physical access to a doctor or nurse.”

Mrs Thompson and NSW Farmers appeared before the Parliamentary Inquiry into Health Outcomes & Access to Health & Hospital Services in Rural, Regional & Remote NSW on Friday, December 3.

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