Why does Australia no longer have a dedicated rural health minister?

Doug Hendrie

30/05/2019 1:46:05 PM

Peak health bodies have expressed concern over the lack of a dedicated rural health minister in the new-look Morrison ministry.

Rural farmer
Which way forward for the health of the seven million Australians outside the major cities?

The Federal Government has announced that rural health will be one of the responsibilities for Federal Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government, Mark Coulton. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has been reappointed.
Former Rural Health Minister Bridget McKenzie is moving to agriculture, after last year having her range of responsibilities significantly broadened.
RACGP Vice President and RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda said the college is disappointed to lose a dedicated minister.
‘We feel it would have been more appropriate to have a rural health minister, since we have very complicated rural issues,’ he told newsGP.
‘But given the ministry is already formed, we are looking forward to working with Minister Hunt and Minister Coulton to make sure what was started continues to be supported.’
Associate Professor Shenouda said Minister McKenzie had been involved in creating the National Rural Generalist Pathway, as well as working on schemes such as funding for rural junior doctor training and a wider rural health strategy.
National Rural Health Alliance CEO Mark Diamond said the lack of a dedicated rural health minister seems to be linked to a ‘diminution of importance’.
‘It’s not obvious to me where rural health now sits,’ he told newsGP. ‘Our ideal is to have a member of cabinet that has rural health as their major responsibility. That would be the ideal. And we haven’t seen that.’
Mr Diamond said the sector has a broadly good relationship with former rural health minister McKenzie.
‘There was no doubt about her proactive promotion of rural issues and regional issues in particular, though she was not so focused on remote or very remote locations,’ he said.

Mark-Coulton-article.jpgRural health will be part of Mark Coulton’s remit as Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government, the Department of Health has confirmed.
Mr Diamond said the lack of a dedicated rural health minister could potentially compromise the ability to achieve change regarding equitable access to healthcare.
‘It would send a very important message to seven million people [in rural Australia] that there is a minister for rural health,’ he said.
But Mr Diamond said Minister Hunt is aware of the challenges and health inequities for rural Australians.
‘[Minister Hunt] is the minister for the health of all Australians, so this is his responsibility,’ Mr Diamond said.
‘We’ve relied on national policies to solve the problem, but it doesn’t. Raising all boats doesn’t address the inherent inequities in rural areas.’
Rural Doctors Association of Australia President Dr Adam Coltzau also called for the reappointment of a dedicated rural health minister.
‘The seven million people who live across rural and remote Australia – and who often face significant waiting times to see a doctor or an allied health professional, or who need to travel long distances to access a health service – would argue fiercely that it should [have a portfolio focus],’ he said.
‘While some positive initiatives – like the National Rural Generalist Pathway – are being progressed, there is much more to be done to boost the rural health workforce and improve access to healthcare in the bush.’
A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed to newsGP that rural health would be part of Minister Coulton’s remit.
‘The Hon Mark Coulton MP – Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government – has responsibility for rural, regional and remote health, rural health workforce policy and programs, the Murray Darling Medical Schools Network and oversight of the National Rural Health Commissioner,’ the spokesperson wrote in an email.
‘Minister Coulton will also assist Minister Hunt with delivery of the Community Health and Hospitals Program in regional Australia.
‘Minister Coulton has been briefed by the Department of Health, has met with the Chief Medical Officer and begun work on the priorities outlined above.’

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christine Paterson   31/05/2019 8:43:48 AM

I am a UK MRCGP GP who has VR and many years experience of Rural remote single handed GP practice in Australia, UK and NZ . I recently decided to return to do Locum GP work in Australia . The paperwork has been horrendous and much worse since I last was here in 2005 . However the final straw was the credentialling in order to do VMO cover . I have done this type of work for nearly 25 years but now have to provide 2 referees who must be GP's and I have to have worked alongside them in the last 6 months AND they must be AHPRA registered .My last Job was as a Single handed GP on a Remote island in the outer Hebrides of Scotland . Therefore I have not worked alongside any other GP's and definitely not AHPRA registered .Due to this beaurocratic dogma I an currently working office hours only in an Urban practice . I am enjoying not having the 24/7 responsibility but not putting my broad skills set to use for the benefit of the Rural Population of Australia. Is there a hidden Agenda ??

Dr Dreena Elizabeth Kelly   1/06/2019 11:00:03 AM

I hail from Scotland . Plenty of work up here in Port Hedland , can use all your skills and hospital work .
Best Wishes

Matt Byrne   2/06/2019 7:43:54 PM

I agree with Christine re insane paperwork. I have also retired from full time work and have to do a new complete set of paperwork for each job I do . My most recent job I had to do an online course on hand washing before I could start work ! I am into my 14th month trying to get NZ registration ! It is easier for me to stay home and work In The local ED than try to help isolated practices in need .