09 March 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

With the next State Election just around the corner, our thoughts are on the issues that impact each of us the most. And geography certainly plays a part in this. The priorities of rural and regional NSW communities will always be a bit different to those in metropolitan areas, and the further away you are from a major city, the more acute those issues become.

Health is always one of the big-ticket issues, and this election is no different. The Coalition government in September of last year finalised its response to the inquiry into rural, regional and remote healthcare, which heard a myriad of stories from people in country NSW highlighting the shortcomings of the current system. The Government endorsed 41 of the 44 inquiry recommendations and said it was already acting on the list of inquiry findings.

The problems with healthcare in the bush are obviously nothing new, but what we need to start being able to say is that ‘things are improving’. A report released by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) of NSW last month shows there is still some way to go, with the takeaway message being that the further you live from a metropolitan centre, the worse your health outcomes.

What we can be grateful for is the existence of, and government support for, the amazing aeromedical services in NSW – like the RFDS – and the fact they are there around the clock for emergencies in rural and regional areas. But, when it comes to more everyday healthcare needs and concerns, health services may not be so readily available. The loss of regional hospital services and a scarcity of healthcare professionals are just some of the concerns, and unfortunately, as a multitude of inquiries and reports have outlined over many decades, there are no easy fixes. And the responsibility for action and change is obviously not shouldered by just one tier of government.

What reports like the one from the RFDS should do though is help add to a roadmap for change for decision-makers. They should help inform policies and strategies aimed at long-term changes that benefit rural and regional communities, because unfortunately the current issues with our health system cannot be fixed overnight.

There’s no doubt governments are working on these issues, particularly around the likes of staff recruitment and retention, and individual communities have devised their own initiatives to boost healthcare services in their local areas, which should be applauded and encouraged.

Country communities can’t expect all of their healthcare needs are going to be met within their local area, that’s just not realistic, but they should be able to expect access to the likes of GPs, dental care, mental health services and a range of high-quality hospital services within a reasonable radius of where they live. It’s going to take funding, yes, and it will take time, that’s true, but it’s also going to take more ‘out of the box’ thinking and initiatives that we can all play a part in. While waiting for the policy-makers, communities can come together and identify their own health priorities and potential strategies, starting the ball rolling on long-term and meaningful change.  

This article was first published in The Land Newspaper, Agricultural & rural farm news | The Land | NSW