New rural health commissioner named

rural Australia

Various groups have welcomed the appointment of Associate Professor Ruth Stewart to the role of National Rural Health Commissioner

Rural health advocate, medical practitioner and researcher Associate Professor Ruth Stewart has been named as Australia’s new National Rural Health Commissioner by the Federal Government.

A/Prof Stewart takes over from Professor Paul Worley, who was the inaugural Rural Health Commissioner.

The Government has recently extended and expanded the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner to have a broader focus, and additionally the Commissioner will be supported by two Deputy Commissioners to specifically look after allied health, nursing and Indigenous health.

“One of the early priorities for the expanded Office will be to support the Government’s ongoing rural response to COVID-19 and to examine the impact on health workforce planning in regional, rural and remote communities,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.

“A/Professor Stewart’s wealth of experience and expertise will be invaluable in driving the Australian Government’s commitment to improving rural health outcomes around the nation.”

A/Professor Stewart said: “I look forward to supporting Minister Hunt and Minister Mark Coulton [Minister for Regional Health] to set priorities and develop strategies to best serve rural and remote Australia.

“I will work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples across the nation to ensure that these policies are culturally safe and directed at closing the gap. This is an exciting challenge for my office to develop and promote innovative and integrated approaches to health care delivery in rural and remote areas.”

Associate Professor Ruth Stewart

The PSA welcomed the appointment.

“Associate Professor Stewart brings a wealth of experience to this role and we look forward to working with her on behalf of pharmacists to improve rural health outcomes around Australia,” said PSA national president Associate Professor Chris Freeman.

“As the most accessible healthcare provider, pharmacists are well-placed to perform a much greater role in Australia’s rural and remote communities.

“Highlighted in PSA’s Pharmacists in 2023, it is important to align incentives for pharmacists to support rural and remote communities as well as equip pharmacists with skills and knowledge to deliver closing-the-gap initiatives for indigenous Australians.

“Importantly reducing unnecessary barriers to the Closing the Gap PBS Co-payment Measure has been identified within the 7th Community Pharmacy Agreement. 

“PSA also welcomes the intent to expand the Rural Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance within the 7th Community Pharmacy Agreement to the modified Monash Model classification which will increase the eligibility for an additional 800 pharmacies.”

The National Rural Health Alliance said Associate Professor Stewart was an “excellent choice” for the role.

“She has a long and distinguished career advocating for better health outcomes for people in rural, regional and remote Australia,” said National Rural Health Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane.

“There is still so much work to be done to ensure that people in rural, regional and remote Australia have equal access to health services and are as healthy as their counterparts in the cities.”

Meanwhile the RACGP said it looks forward to working closely with the new commissioner to improve health outcomes in the bush.

“It is important that patients and healthcare workers outside of our major cities have a strong voice. We need an independent advocate who can progress practical changes in line with the needs of rural and remote communities,” said RACGP Vice President and Chair of RACGP Rural Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda.

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