As time passes and governments come and go, the same health issues remain for people in regional and rural communities.
A recent survey conducted by Australian Community Media showed the biggest concerns when it comes to regional and rural health are the time it takes to see a general practitioner and a lack of services in the bush.
With the March 25 election looming and health likely to play a key part in the decision making of regional voters, The Land asked Minister for Regional Health Bronnie Taylor and Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park how they planned to address the issues of rural patients.
Q: What plans do you have to bridge the gap in health outcomes for rural communities?
Ms Taylor - The thing that we're really concentrating on is workforce. That's why we've introduced the $883 million incentive scheme that we're doing. It's the largest shakeup of its kind ever undertaken in the state. It is being delivered alongside the training, recruitment pathways, and scholarship opportunities as we are really trying to future proof healthcare in the bush. Expanding the pharmacy scope of practice is going to be a big thing in rural and regional communities because our pharmacists are one of the most underutilised professions in the regions. We're also increasing the number of nurse practitioners by 200 over the next four years.
Now my job is to concentrate on the workforce, and that's what I'm doing.- Bronnie Taylor, Minister for Regional Health
Mr Park - We need NSW Health to take seriously the findings of the parliamentary inquiry. Not only will Labor be implementing the recommendations but we will regularly report back as to the progress we are making implementing these findings. A dedicated deputy secretary will be in charge of regional and rural health. I'll hold a summit in the first 100 days with rural health care professionals, community leaders and peak bodies to chart a way forward on the development of a 10 year sustainable plan for the delivery of healthcare outside our metropolitan cities.
Q: With 74 per cent of farmers surveyed in NSW saying they are waiting weeks and months to see a GP, how will you get more GPs into rural areas and cut waiting times?
Ms Taylor - We're transforming the way health clinicians are incentivised. It's not only about recruitment, it's about retention and financially rewarding the people who have stayed and continue to work in the system. That was something I was really adamant about.
Mr Park - Chris Minns and Labor has committed to scrap the wages cap that does nothing to attract and retain staff to regional and rural areas. Sitting down and negotiating in good faith rather than using a blunt instrument like the wages cap is a better way to deliver better pay and conditions for healthcare staff.
Q: Would the NSW health system benefit from one overarching body to distribute funding rather than state government funding some parts and federal government funding others?
Ms Taylor - I've always said that. We're often in conflict with two different things because primary care and acute care are intertwined and aged care, acute care and community care are intertwined. When you look at the structures that are there, state health services provide a lot of the primary care services, yet primary care is the responsibility of the federal government. If federal government can't make solutions happen, they need to fund us appropriately so we can.
Mr Park - Labor is committed to developing a strong partnership with the Commonwealth to ensure that all levels of government are working closer together to respond and meet the unique health needs of individual communities, something that has been greatly missing over the past decade.
Q: With 18pc of farmers surveyed saying lack of health services was their biggest health concern, what good is building new facilities if there are no specialists willing to use them?
Ms Taylor - The focus of the government over the past 12 years has been to get the infrastructure up to scratch because it was diabolical. I think if you talk to anyone that's worked in the region, we're really welcoming those new builds. But it's really frustrating for people when they see beautiful new hospitals, but not being able to staff them. Now my job is to concentrate on the workforce, and that's what I'm doing.
Mr Park - We have had a government for 12 years who has been focused on shiny new buildings rather than ensuring the correct services and staffing levels are in them to deliver the health care. Modern buildings are nice to look at but they don't save lives.
Q: What other rural health policies are you bringing to the election?
Ms Taylor - We want to continue what we started and that's looking at doing things differently. We want to look at how we expand some of our innovative workforce models, like the Murrumbidgee model and look at how we provide better access to care and how we do that to suit individual communities?
Mr Park - Labor has committed to 500 new paramedics dedicated to rural and regional communities. The feedback from the inquiry and the Health Services Union has been very clear.
Rural communities are being left short when it comes to paramedics. We know that highly trained paramedics do more to assist people in their homes or in nursing homes, taking pressure off hospitals. That's why we will ensure as many as possible undergo additional training to be extended care and intensive care paramedics.
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