‘Electrifying’ conference tackles remote medicine challenges

Michelle Wisbey

28/09/2023 4:18:15 PM

More than 120 passionate delegates have joined forces in the outback, intent on taking their five community-led solutions all the way to Canberra.

Conference panel
The forum included topics such as the health needs of remote communities and the nature of quality accessible primary healthcare.

From million-acre cattle stations to island beaches, stakeholders from far and wide have descended on the town of Charleville, on a mission to improve remote healthcare.
The Remote Australians Matter conference was borne out of frustration and a will to make a difference.
Its goal – to bring together those living in Australia’s most isolated locations to hear firsthand what they are facing and what they need.
‘We didn’t want people that work in the middle of Sydney talking about remote issues, it was actually the remote people talking about the issues,’ RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements told newsGP.
He was one of 120 delegates to make the long trek to Charleville for the first-time conference, a nine-hour drive inland from Brisbane.
Other attendees included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations, Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and community members.
The two-day forum covered topics ranging from the health needs of remote communities, to what quality accessible primary healthcare looks like.
Annabelle Brayley is Chair of Remote Australians Matter and described the energy of the conference as ‘electrifying’.
‘I had a moment yesterday when I saw the groups working together and I thought, “we can do this”. We just need to cut through the B.S and work together and we can actually create solutions that will address the needs of remote Australians,’ she told newsGP.
‘What we’re doing is creating a forum that brings together people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to connect. And now that we’ve connected them, we’ve created new networks for them.
‘I’m absolutely positive that we can make change happen because we’re driving it from community.’
Through a series of presentations, workshops, and discussions, the conference produced five areas that need addressing to improve remote healthcare:

  • Community involvement and leadership
  • Universal health obligation
  • Workforce
  • Place-based community primary health care models
  • Funding and resourcing
Associate Professor Clements said while most small towns experience poor healthcare and poor funding, they need tailored solutions.
‘This is not just a rehashing or describing of the problem, this is about meaningful goals and it’s outcome orientated,’ he said.
‘Patients want the same practitioners, they want coordination, they want to know that the hospital is talking to the GPs, talking to the pharmacy, talking to the nursing staff and allied health.
‘They want people to be accountable for their healthcare because, at the moment, the hospitals aren’t really accountable for health outcomes, the Primary Health Networks aren’t accountable for health outcomes.’
The crisis currently facing remote medicine is well known, as towns across Australia face a chronic shortage of doctors. However, at the same time as medical students are distancing themselves from general practice, more people living in metro areas are considering a regional move.
A recent survey found one quarter of all Sydneysiders asked said they would consider moving to a regional area in the next three years – a figure that jumped to 41% for those with young children.
RACGP Fellow Dr Sara Renwick-Lau is a GP working in the small Victorian town of Mallacoota, and was one of many to share her personal story in a conference presentation, detailing the ups and downs of running a remote practice.
Thanks to a mammoth community effort, her practice has kept its door open, but she said if nothing changes, remote Australian healthcare will end up in ‘dire straits’.
‘This conference is about bringing those people together out of their silos and recognising that communities need to be empowered to be able to drive improvement,’ Dr Renwick-Lau told newsGP.
‘It is good to recognise that there is a group of Australians who live in remote Australia, and we need to validate their lives in those places.
‘We had lots of discussions around funding in remote communities, community-controlled funding models, and how communities can be empowered to really look after their workforce to attract and retain.’

And as the conference wraps up, Ms Brayley said a delegation will head to Canberra next year, not just to share the challenges of remote Australians, but also offer solutions.
‘We’re not expecting exactly the same services as inner city metro, that’s not even plausible. What we’re expecting is access to the same standard of primary healthcare for all remote Australians,’ she said.
‘It’s going to look different in different communities because what people need in the Territory, and what they need in the south of Western Australia, and what they need in western Queensland, and what they need in the Pilbara is going to look different.
‘But the standard should be the same and equitable access to a universal health coverage is what’s important.’
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