The new deputy leader of the Nationals, Senator Fiona Nash, has failed her first test as a Cabinet Minister in charge of rural and regional health.
The Coalition has abruptly axed all funding to the Health Consumers of Rural and Remote Australia (HCRRA), the body responsible for improving health outcomes for people living in the bush.
Its members listen carefully to the views and experiences of health consumers in rural and remote areas and work to increase the avenues for consumer and carer voices to be heard and engaged.
This latest decision, which rips away the organisation’s main funding source, will save a grand total of $60,000.
The saving, which is trivial in the overall scheme of federal government health spending, effectively silences rural and remote health consumers’ voices in national and state health policy debates.
It is reminiscent of the Coalition’s cruel decision last year to axe the subsidy offered to people who eat modified foods because of extremely rare metabolic disorders. Ripping away that $256 a week subsidy, which was available to just 904 people, achieved a minimal saving at the expense of vulnerable people at risk of brain damage because they cannot afford special low-protein foods.
This latest cut goes against decades of progress in improving patient care by incorporating the consumer experience of those living outside of our major cities.
What is the point in having a Rural Health Minister in Senator Nash when the perspective of health professionals and patients in the bush is routinely ignored?
Pre-election the Nationals promised that they would not support policies that led to the closure of regional hospitals. But the Coalition’s $57 billion in cuts to public hospitals will do just that.
On top of that they said they would increase Medicare rebates for Doctors in the bush. Instead they froze the rebate and many rural and remote patients will be hit with a co-payment they can’t afford.
Now they have cut off at the knees a health body that enables the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance to be well-informed about what issues are affecting consumers in rural and remote Australia.
People living outside our cities already suffer from poorer health outcomes, this includes higher rates of chronic disease and lower life expectancy. They have inferior access to services and late presentations to hospital are more common.
This latest kick in the teeth from the deputy leader of the Nationals shows how little influence the junior partners are wielding within the Coalition team.