Pharmacy and other health professions have a ‘metrocentric maldistribution’, Parliament is told as MPs debate health inequities
There were mixed messages from parliamentarian health professionals this week as the House of Representatives debated the recent federal budget.
Dr David Gillespie, Nationals MP for Lyne (NSW) welcomed the funding boost given to regional health, as he called for even more to be done to fix the ‘metrocentric maldistribution’ of health.
“The other thing that has troubled all health administrations is the metrocentric maldistribution of the medical workforce,” said Dr Gillespie, a gynecologist.
“It’s a phenomenon in all the professions, not just medicine, but it’s most acute and most obvious there”.
“Pharmacists have that problem. Physios have that problem. Nursing has that problem. Getting health professionals into regional Australia is hard. As I said, other professions like engineers and accountants have trouble too, but when it’s health care it’s acute”.
He welcomed the “great announcement” on the expansion of the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program as one way to ameliorate this situation.
“For 20 years it has funded 16 university departments of rural health and facilitated medical students doing at least a year of their undergraduate training in these areas, and, due to recent announcements, they will be able to do the whole four or five years, end to end, in regional centres”.
“It’s also benefited nursing and allied health training, because they’ve had a chance to do regional training,” he said.
“We know that if people train in the regions, they’re much more likely to have their eyes opened to the wonders of living in regional Australia and come back there in clinical practice”.
He also welcomed the telehealth initiative, saying it was a “godsend for regional Australia”.
“It’s been a great budget for health in general but regional health, in particular, has really got a turbocharge behind it with these extra funds. Any further information from the minister would be much appreciated”.
However, Dr Mike Freedlander, ALP MP for the NSW outer suburban, partially rural electorate of Macarthur was critical of a lack of action to address health inequities based on access and affordability.
“The simple truth now is that we are approaching a similar watershed time,” he said.
“People are now being faced with huge gap costs to pay for medical care. There has been an effective collapse of the public hospital outpatient system. There’s a huge discrepancy in life expectancy between those living in inner metropolitan areas and those living in rural, regional and remote areas.
“Just as an example, people living in the inner city of Sydney have an average life expectancy in the mid-80s for males. If that is transcribed to outer regional areas, it’s 67. So there is almost 20 years difference. It’s a tragedy”.
“We have reached a watershed time in Australia. My questions for the minister are: what does the minister plan to do to finally address the rising disparity that exists in terms of health outcomes in our communities?”