Rural health needs a strategy

Four key areas an incoming federal government must address to help rural Australians get healthier and live longer have been identified by the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA)

Promoted as the nation’s peak body for rural, regional and remote health, the NRHA has also listed in detail what needs to be done in each area.

The four areas are:

  • Improving the health of indigenous Australians.
  • Boosting the supply and distribution of allied healthcare workers in rural, regional and remote areas.
  • Creating a greater research focus on factors affecting rural health.
  • Developing a new national rural health strategy.

NRHA CEO Mark Diamond says much needs to be done so that everyone in Australia enjoys better health, particularly as currently, those living beyond major cities carry 1.3 times the cost, mortality and disability associated with illness and disease.

“We’re looking for commitments from all sides of politics as we go into this election, not only to fund immediate needs, but also to take a long-term strategic view for the sake of the future of the seven million people living outside major cities.

“We need a new national rural health strategy. The previous strategy was based on a framework endorsed by the COAG Health Council in 2011,” he said.

Mr Diamond says the use and effectiveness of that strategy hasn’t been evaluated since then.

“We need to understand how that framework or guide for decision-making in planning and delivering effective and better healthcare and health promotion services is being used and what, if anything, needs to change,” he said.

“In short, we need to prepare a new national rural health strategy for the approaching third decade of the 21st century,” he said. “We need to ensure all governments and healthcare service providers are pulling in the same direction when it comes to rural health.”

Mr Diamond says that if people living in rural, regional and remote areas had the same mortality rates as people living in major cities, there would have been almost 20,000 fewer deaths, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data for 2009-2011.

“In these areas, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and lung cancer (all preventable conditions), transport accidents and suicide killed 11 more people a day compared with metropolitan areas,” he said.

Over the next four weeks, the NRHA will roll out more detail on what it is asking of Australia’s next federal government.

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