At its second meeting, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to rural health, the rural and remote health stakeholder roundtable (the roundtable) met, chaired by the Hon Senator Fiona Nash, Minister for Rural Health and attended by rural and remote health stakeholders.
Key challenges for the rural health workforce were explored to drive policy that can best support the delivery of healthcare for rural Australians.
The roundtable had its inaugural meeting in November 2015. Minister Nash committed to meeting with stakeholders three times each year.
The roundtable membership includes a number of peak bodies representing the rural health workforce. Members include:
- National Rural Health Alliance
- Rural Doctors Association of Australia
- Australian Medical Association Council of Rural Doctors
- Rural Health Workforce Australia
- Australia College of Rural and Remote Medicine
- Rural Faculty Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
- Federal Council of the Australian Dental Association
- Allied Health Professionals Australia
- Australian Rural Health Education Network
- Federation of Rural Australasian Medical Educators
- Australian Indigenous Doctors Association
- Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives
- Services for Australasian and Rural and Remote Allied Health
- National Rural Health Student Network Executive Committee
- Indigenous Allied Health Australia
- Rural Medicine Expert
The roundtable provides a forum in which rural health stakeholders can explore policy options and provide expert advice to the Minister.
Outcomes of the 6 April 2016 meeting
The April roundtable discussed three key topics: the distribution of an appropriately trained health workforce; the role of Primary Health Networks in prioritising and commissioning services; and expanded to discuss the more immediate concerns around remote area safety for health workers.
Distributing an appropriately trained health workforce in rural and remote areas
The roundtable considered current barriers to recruitment and retention strategies and discussed possible enhancement of existing policies and the geographical classification system. Roundtable members agreed access to appropriate training and support was a key component that needed to encourage the ‘right health worker to the right place at the right time’ and for the long term retention of staff.
International Medical Graduates (IMGs) currently face restrictions to work in Australia. Having their applications assessed prior to their arrival in Australia was discussed as a possibility that could be explored with appropriate training support provided.
Discussion also centred on ways in which to recognise and encourage the generalist practitioner who is providing an expanded model of care to meet the needs of the community.
The roundtable proposed the establishment of a working group to review existing policy and the adverse consequences that can occur in rural and remote areas. The working group will report to the roundtable by late 2016.
The role of Primary Health Networks (PHNs) in prioritising and commissioning services
A number of peak bodies have developed communication channels with PHNs. PHNs have been established to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients, particularly those at risk of poor health outcomes, and to improve coordination of care to ensure that patients receive the right care in the right place at the right time.
The group agreed the importance of having a channel through which national issues could be raised.
Remote area health worker safety
Roundtable members were unanimous in agreement to develop better procedures to avoid danger for remote area health workers. It was acknowledged that the problem extends all workers in remote communities. Members agreed that the issue requires collaboration across Commonwealth, state and local governments; non-government organisations and local communities. Members also agreed that individuals must adhere to safety regulations and procedures.
The Department has worked with some Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to support endeavours to address any concerns about security.
Members explored the potential to address the safety concern through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The Commonwealth will engage with jurisdictions as the next step.