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    Rode Durey.

‘Significant gaps’ in regional health services

By Jessica Grimble 

A new report has revealed the depth of disadvantage for people living in rural and remote areas of Australia. 

A Royal Flying Doctor Service research report series, ‘Best for the bush, rural and remote health base line 2022’, acknowledges while life satisfaction for people living in rural, regional and remote areas rates higher than those living in cities, people in these communities have poorer access to healthcare services including hospital and primary services, travel greater distances to receive care, experience higher rates of ill-health and potentially preventable hospitalisations, and demonstrate higher levels of mortality, morbidity and health and disease risk factors. 

About 30 percent of the Australian population lives outside of major cities. The majority of the Wimmera and southern Mallee is classified as ‘outer regional’. Border communities are classified as ‘remote’. 

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Women’s Health Grampians manager strategy and programs Rose Durey said the report ‘solidified’ the knowledge that the further people lived from metropolitan areas, the less services were available and the worse health outcomes became. 

“Rurality is linked to a lot of health inequities – in part due to a lack of services, but also because of social determinants of health. Things like employment, education, often higher rates of smoking or chronic disease or alcohol use contribute to those stark statistics,” she said. 

“What it shows is how important our health services are, how needed they are in towns across the Wimmera. 

“Women go to the doctor more often than men throughout their lifetime for lots of different reasons – including reproductive health and pregnancy and also while caring for children and ageing parents and, therefore, are often higher users of primary care services. This report shows us that primary care services are lacking and limited, and that has a big impact on women.”

Analysis of Royal Flying Doctor Service aeromedical retrievals shows the most common reason for a retrieval is heart disease. In many cases, effective primary healthcare can prevent heart disease. People living in rural and remote areas are 2.5 times more likely, than those in cities, to be hospitalised for a reason that is potentially preventable. 

Ms Durey said heart disease diagnosis, particularly for women, and access to sexual and reproductive health services were significant gaps in Wimmera service provision.

She said there was evidence from a Women’s Health Grampians and Melbourne University study that suggested higher rates of ‘conscientious objection’ and stigma in relation to sexual and reproductive health services, including termination of a pregnancy in the Wimmera compared to other regions

“There are some really committed individuals within the region who really believe in providing these services and they are absolutely vital to us having these services in the region,” she said. 

“Women’s Health Grampians has worked in this space for a long time and part of that work is about raising awareness of services that are available and decreasing the stigma and normalising sexual and reproductive health as a part of healthcare.” 

Ms Durey said people could go to or phone 1800 MY OPTIONS on 1800 696 784 for more information. 

Within reach

Royal Flying Doctor Service federation executive director Frank Quinlan said with the release of the ‘Strengthening Medicare Taskforce’ report, the Federal Government had ‘recognised the critical importance’ of accessible primary health care. 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare proposes that one measure of reasonable access is that, at a minimum, people should be able to access health services within a 60-minute drive time. Using this as a simple proxy measurement, the Royal Flying Doctor Service report found 44,930 people across Australia have no access to local primary health care services; 57,899 people have no access to a local GP; 208,247 people have no access to local nurse-led clinics; 118,943 people have no access to local dental services; and 134,851 people have no access to local mental health services.

“As we look to reform Medicare across the country, we need to deploy creative models of integrated, multi-disciplinary team-based primary care for people living outside the reach of mainstream services, who mainly rely on services outside the Medicare system,” Mr Quinlan said. 

“As this report recognises, rural and remote communities need rural and remote solutions that are designed with local communities to respond to need.”  

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said primary care was ‘in its worst shape’ since Medicare began and there was ‘no higher priority’ for the government to improve. 

He said the government was funding a range of incentives to encourage healthcare professionals to work in regional, rural and remote areas and to offer continued professional skills development for healthcare workers

The Royal Flying Doctor Service produced a ‘Best for the bush’ strategy document almost 30 years ago. It provides an annual report series. 

People can read the full report via  

The entire February 22, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!