Major parties have no clear policies for rural health, alliance says

Standing for the Eden-Monaro this federal election are The Greens' Patrick McGinlay, Labor's Mike Kelly and The Liberals' Fiona Kotvojs.
Standing for the Eden-Monaro this federal election are The Greens' Patrick McGinlay, Labor's Mike Kelly and The Liberals' Fiona Kotvojs.

If you wanted your vote to go towards improving the health of the rural population this federal election, according to Australia's peak body for rural, regional and remote health there is no clear winner when it comes to policy.

National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) CEO Mark Diamond said none of the major parties had summarised clearly and comprehensively how they planned to tackle the "shameful gap" in health outcomes between metropolitan and rural Australia.

He said the closest was the Greens' stakeholder statement on rural health.

"The Coalition's rural health policy got six lines in its health plan document and Labor's got 15 lines," Mr Diamond said.

"That's not to say both parties don't have plans for rural health.

"They do, but it is difficult to glean in one document how much of the billions of dollars they plan to spend on health will go to improving rural, regional and remote health services and keeping country people well."

Candidates respond 

The Liberals' candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs said under the Liberal National government, Australians living in rural and regional Australia had access to new services through investment including new regional cancer centres, telehealth services and increased opportunities for Australia's rural and regional health workforce.

"Our $550million Stronger Rural Health Strategy is delivering 3000 additional doctors and more than 3000 additional nurses and allied health professionals in rural general practice over the next decade," she said.

"Federal funding for public hospital services under the Liberal and Nationals Government has increased from $13.3billion in 2012-13, to $21.7billion in 2018-19, to $29.1billion in 2024-25.

"Our new five-year National Health Reform Agreement will deliver $31billion in additional public hospital funding from 2020-21 to 2024-25."

She said in addition, patients in every state and territory would have access to improved health and hospital services under the Liberals' landmark $1.3billion Commonwealth Health and Hospitals Program.

Dr Kotvojs did not respond to a question asking whether she believed there was gap between metro and regional areas when it came to health outcomes.

But The Greens' candidate for Eden-Monaro Patrick McGinlay said there could be no doubt health outcomes were poorer for Australians in rural areas compared to major cities, as verified by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in its 2018 report.

He said the report noted access to health care, the challenges of geographic spread, low population density, limited infrastructure and the higher costs of delivering rural and remote health care could affect access to health care.

The Greens have committed to minimum standards of service access as well as promised development of a rural health workforce innovation fund, to look at increasing the rural and remote bulk billing payment and provide $180million in infrastructure and increased MBS payments to help deliver care to the bush.

"The above rural-specific policies applicable to Eden-Monaro would be supplemented by The Greens' overall initiatives in health such as Medicare-funded Denticare," Mr McGinlay said.

"Right now, dental care is not included in Medicare, forcing people to pay out-of-pocket for the dental care they need.

"More than a third of adults report they have delayed, or avoided seeing a dentist due to cost.

"For people in rural and regional Australia, First Nations people, and older people, the numbers are even worse."

Meanwhile The Canberra Times reported Labor said its promises to Australians on healthcare added up to $8billion more than what the Morrison government had on offer.

This included $2.8billion in extra funding to hospitals, $2.4billion for free dental care for pensioners, and $2.3billion to extend the range of cancer-related services covered by Medicare.

The NRHA represents 37 national organisations working to improve the health and wellbeing of people in rural and remote Australia.

It has compared the major parties' policies against its priorities for improving rural health services, access and affordability, and to read the report click here.