Opinion piece: Government has dropped the ball on regional health

People living in rural and regional areas die up to seven years earlier than those living in major cities. This comes as a shock to many Australians. 

Regional patients face a tough situation. There is a critical gap in their health services and outcomes. They pay more out of pocket. They wait longer for a diagnosis. They travel further for treatment. They die sooner than they need to.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) paints a bleak picture of rural and regional health in Australia today.

They are more likely to have chronic disease like diabetes, melanoma and arthritis. They are more likely to be critically injured and between 1.3 – 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.

Despite this, per 100,000 people, regional patients have access to less than a third the number of physical and mental health specialists than those in major cities.  

Regional patients face a tough situation but the Abbott Government’s cuts have made a tough situation dire.

This Government’s health policies are blind to the needs of regional Australia. They have put nothing on the table to address the lack of nurses, specialists and allied health professionals. Nothing to address the problem of lower access to GPs, diagnostic testing or the higher incidence of chronic disease.

Instead we get a GP Tax. We get increased cost of medicines. We get historically high health insurance premiums and more than $50 billion gutted from public hospitals.

Private Health Insurance plays a role but it is not the answer. It’s no good if there’s no doctor in town. It’s money down the drain for a sick farmer if the nearest public hospital is hundreds of kilometres away.  

Our health system is one of the best by world standards, but in a developed economy there is no reason why regional patients should be made to suffer because their health needs just aren’t on the Government’s agenda.

Before the election, the Coalition promised to appoint a Minister for Regional and Rural Health. They promised the people of regional Australia their health needs would be a priority

Less than a year later, they know they have been lied to.

Regional Australians deserve a Minister and a Government that will champion their needs.

Labor is the party that created Medicare, the PBS and put hospital funding on a sustainable footing. We will always fight to ensure that people in rural and regional Australia get the healthcare they need, not the healthcare they can afford.