Remember your allies

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Rural Health Commissioner expansion is welcome, but we need a mental health focus too, says pharmacist MP 

The recent passage of legislation to establish a new National Rural Health Commissioner position is good news, but allied health should be at the forefront of any plan, Emma McBride told Parliament.

Speaking in the House of Representatives last week following the passage of the legislation, Ms McBride, a pharmacist  and ALP MP for Dobell (NSW) applauded the decision to appoint a deputy commissioner with a specific focus on allied health. 

However, she said mental health seemed to be missing in the plan. 

“As a pharmacist who started out my pharmacy career in 1997 in Forbes, I believe appointing a deputy
commissioner to focus on allied health is a big step forward,” Ms McBride said.

“Allied health professionals include pharmacists, social workers, OTs, physiotherapists, dietitians and psychologists serve our rural communities as best they can, often across vast distances”.

“However, I urge the government to also consider a deputy commissioner with responsibility for professionals involved in mental health care,” she added.

“The stated No. 1 social priority of this government is suicide prevention towards zero. Having worked
in adult acute mental health inpatient units in a regional centre at Wyong Hospital in my electorate for almost a decade, I urge the government to see this as crucial and something that the government must consider.

Experience tells you that mental health in rural, regional and remote communities deserves priority, focus and an urgent funding boost. Too many people in these communities don’t have access to services that people in big cities just take for granted, often leading to tragic consequences,” she said.

“This is even more important as we face the long and bumpy road to recovery from the economic impacts of COVID-19”.

The new National Rural Health Commissioner, and expanded commission team, will start work from 1 July, said Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government.

Speaking after Parliament passed the legislation last week (19 June), Mr Coulton said “the Government is strengthening the Office by broadening its scope and implementing Deputy Commissioners to provide specific advice on rural allied health, nursing, and Indigenous health”.

“I am excited about the future of the office, what it means for people in the bush, it is very pleasing to see Parliament provide it urgent passage.”

The commission will take a “broader approach to rural health”, and will help deliver the Government’s key reforms and targeted rural health priorities to support practical change for rural and remote communities, Mr Coulton said.

“The new Commissioner –who will begin on 1 July 2020 – and Deputy Commissioners would continue to listen to the needs of rural and remote communities and support practical change to improve access to health care for patients,” he said.

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