The NSW budget contained some positive measures aimed at tackling the enormous issues in healthcare in regional NSW.
(min cost $8)
Login or signup to continue reading
Over 2020-21, a NSW Parliamentary committee held an inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote NSW. The Inquiry received more than 700 submissions and heard from hundreds of witnesses in public hearings across the state.
The picture that emerged was one of understaffed hospitals, poor facilities, chronic health problems going untreated and high healthcare costs.
The Inquiry report, released in May this year, sets out in stark detail the scale of the problem. In the opening pages of the committee's report, Inquiry chairman The Honorable Greg Donnelly MLC wrote, "... the committee heard repeatedly about individuals and families let down by the health system.
We heard stories of emergency departments with no doctors; of patients being looked after by cooks and cleaners; of excessive wait times for treatment; and of misdiagnoses and medical errors."
The NSW Government's allocation of $2.4 billion over the next decade to recruit, train and upskill the non-metropolitan healthcare workforce recognises the breadth and urgency of these issues in our hospitals and clinics.
It is also a welcome and, in the eyes of many patients and their families, long overdue attempt to level a playing field which has traditionally been tilted in favour of our metropolitan counterparts. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data reveals that "people living in rural and remote areas have higher rates of hospitalisations, deaths, injury and also have poorer access to, and use of, primary health care services, than people living in major cities".
Will upgrades to regional hospitals and efforts to recruit 10,000 full-time health and allied health professionals to regional NSW over the next four years balance this disparity in the short-term? No. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes.
Over the course of four years $883 million will be dedicated to attracting and retaining "staff in rural and regional NSW by transforming the way health clinicians are incentivised in the bush". They say money talks. Hopefully it's persuasive when it does, because for too long the remuneration on offer for regional healthcare professionals has paled in comparison to what's on the table in Sydney.
This financial imbalance is often a cause of a widespread and recurring issue outside of metropolitan centres: the struggle to attract doctors. In its budget the government committed funding for training more nurse practitioners in locations that can't find and retain GPs. Up-skilling nurses as a stop-gap measure will have some positive impacts but, as we all know, the provision of more doctors is the end game for towns and communities that are in need. In a little over three years Charles Sturt will graduate the first class from our Doctor of Medicine course, a unique program which sees students undertake all their clinical training in regional areas. By being trained in regional Australia, they are more likely to stay there, and go on to be the doctors that our local communities so desperately need.
Among the budget's other initiatives, it's worth noting the $6.5 billion allocated for 32 new and upgraded hospitals in rural, regional and remote areas, including Bathurst and Albury, as well as new ambulance stations and the recruitment of more paramedics. There is also an allocation of funding to go towards a new Health and Knowledge Precinct in Wagga Wagga, a project MP Dr Joe McGirr has been strongly advocating.
We all know that budgets are annual, priorities change, and goals are not results, so it is reasonable to temper celebrations until these much-needed and life-saving personnel are walking the halls of our hospitals and clinics. Nonetheless, I commend the NSW Government for the steps it has taken.
The government can rest assured that Charles Sturt University will continue to play its part by training the doctors, dentists, paramedics, nurses and other healthcare professionals in regional Australia, for regional Australia. The high level of demand for our new Medicine course, strong interest in degrees in paramedicine, and a significant increase in nursing students shows there are many people across regional NSW who will pursue a career in health and medicine if the opportunity is available to them.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.