Rural Maternal Care in Australia and Establishment of Rural Generalist Training Scheme

Thank you Deputy Prime Minister for your introductory remarks and your unwavering support for growing regional Australia.

I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

It’s a pleasure to be with you today – thank you to the Rural Doctors Association of Australia and RANZCOG for inviting me to speak.

In particular, to RDAA’s Dr John Hall and RANZCOG’s Dr Vijay Roach for your advocacy and support of women across the country during pregnancy and birth.

Representatives from the two GP training colleges are with us here today:

  • Dr Karen Price, President of RACGP – the largest GP Training College; and
  • Dr Sarah Chalmers, President of ACRRM – the GP College dedicated to rural and remote medicine.

I also acknowledge my colleagues here today in support of rural health services.

Working through the pandemic

Firstly, I would like to thank the hardworking doctors and specialists that John and Vijay represent.

They are our frontline health professionals who have kept Australians safe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken much of our attention and our resources over the past 12 months.

But, babies continued to be born and their mothers continued to require care during pregnancy and birth.

People still need to see their doctor, or seek emergency care, which often falls to the local GP in the bush.

The pandemic has added a layer of complexity to the medical care your members offer.

Their hard work and their dedication must be recognised and has helped greatly with the successful suppression of COVID-19 in rural Australia.

How the Australian Government is supporting rural maternal health

We are here today to talk about rural maternity care across the country.

And while we have made great strides in saving the lives of at-risk mothers and babies, there is much more work to be done.

Australia’s Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Ruth Stewart, is an expert in this area. She tells us:

  • The more rural or remote a mother lives, the more likely it is that her baby will be born prematurely.

    In fact, remote women are nearly twice as likely to give birth prematurely.

We also know the rates of neonatal death are significantly higher among women living in rural areas, and rates of fetal death are higher among women living in remote areas.

These are tragic statistics that the Australian Government and I are committed to changing.

To do that, women need access to safe maternity care, consistent with their level of risk, as close to home as possible.

While the planning and delivery of maternity services is predominantly undertaken by the states and territories, the Australian Government provides national direction and supporting efforts to improve care and outcomes for women, babies and families.

We do this by providing funding to the states and territories for public hospital services based on activity – if maternity services are delivered, the Australian Government will provide funding for it.

We also support a range of programs through expert organisations – including RANZCOG and RDAA – to build the capacity of healthcare professionals to offer high quality maternity services in regional, rural and remote areas.

Of particular importance is the work we do to improve the birth outcomes for Indigenous Australians, a key target under the Closing the Gap Refresh.

Many women in rural and remote communities receive antenatal and postnatal care through Aboriginal Health Workers.

We are supporting four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professional organisations to support and develop the local health workforce.

This funding also supports work to increase the cultural capability of the broader health workforce, to better meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The need for rural, regional and remote GPs

Around seven million Australians live in rural, regional and remote areas of our country.

They have their own specific needs, including for their health and wellbeing.

Of course, all Australians, whether they live in our cities or in the bush, are entitled to expect high quality health services. They deserve nothing less.

Rural and regional communities want safe and high quality primary healthcare services delivered by well-trained GPs with training in an extended rural skill set.

Rural generalist GPs are trained to meet the specific current and future healthcare needs of Australian rural and remote communities.

It is their role to provide both comprehensive general practice and emergency care as well as components of other medical specialist care, such as anaesthetics and obstetrics.

By helping deliver better outcomes for local communities, rural generalist GPs also contribute to reducing hospital admissions, a reliance on locum services, and reduce the need for patients to travel for health services.

Australian Government’s Rural Generalist Training Scheme

I had the opportunity to attend this lunch in February last year where I announced that ACRRM would deliver the first 100 Rural Generalist training places.

Today, we continue to build the training pathway for Rural Generalists by announcing the establishment of the Australian Government’s Rural Generalist Training Scheme.

This is a new opportunity to grow the number of general practitioners who specialise in rural medicine by up to 400 over the next four years.

The Australian Government has committed $49.7 million to the scheme.

I want to acknowledge ACRRM’s hard work over the past twelve months to bring this program to fruition for aspiring rural generalists.

The training scheme supports the Government’s National Rural Generalist Pathway, which forms a central element of our Stronger Rural Health Strategy.

The National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Ruth Stewart will continue to drive the implementation of the Pathway, with the sector, community and governments of all persuasions.

It is the Australian Government’s hope that this training scheme will spark the interest of more health professionals to step into the role of a rural generalist GP.

This will contribute to building the medical pipeline for future GPs and grow the rural workforce for the longer term.

By giving GP trainees the skills to work in rural and regional Australia and increasing their exposure to local communities, we can demonstrate there are rewarding and fulfilling professional career opportunities in the bush.

Conclusion

In closing, I’d like to recognise the RDAA for their significant work and advocacy over the past twelve months.

We have worked closely together to navigate the various challenges COVID-19 has presented for rural communities.

And we continue to speak at length about how we can make meaningful and lasting changes to improve our rural workforce and training policy settings.

Thank you for your dedication to promote rural medical careers and sharing so many of your stories and experiences through #Destinationrural.

The doctors already living and working in rural and remote communities know that it’s hard work, but with it comes enormous satisfaction, deep experience and connection to community.

Your contribution to rural, regional and remote communities changes ­- and saves – the lives of many locals and their families.

Thank you for your time this morning and thanks again to the RDAA and RANZCOG for your advocacy.

Thank you.

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