Key Strategic Directions for 2005-06
Better Access to Health and Aged Care Services for Rural Communities
The Department provided funding for a range of initiatives under the Rural Health Strategy and several other programs to help increase access to health and aged care services in rural and remote communities. Key rural health programs and initiatives are listed under relevant Outcomes in Part 2 of this chapter.
Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program
The Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program (MSOAP) continued to increase access to medical specialists for people living in rural and remote communities, by supporting specialists to visit rural and remote areas, and reducing the need for people to travel away from home for consultations and treatments. In 2005-06, medical specialists provided more than 1,070 outreach services under the MSOAP, an increase from the 970 services contracted in 2004-05. Recent enhancements to the MSOAP include consultations with health administrators and health professionals in each state and the Northern Territory to determine the best use of MSOAP resources, and new program review mechanisms to better target the provision of outreach specialist services.
More Allied Health Services Program
The overall aim of the More Allied Health Services Program (MAHS) is to improve the health of people living in rural areas through access to allied health care and promoting local linkages between allied health care and general practice. In 2005-06, the Department administered funding for MAHS to improve access to allied health professionals for residents of rural and remote communities. Allied health professionals funded under MAHS included psychologists, podiatrists, Aboriginal Health Workers, dieticians, occupational therapists and nurses in specialist roles such as asthma and diabetes educators. At the end of each year, through a survey of the Divisions of General Practice, the Department determines how many allied health professionals have been funded through MAHS. In 2004-05, there were 169 allied health professionals funded under the program.
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Regional Health Services Program
The Regional Health Services Program supported the continuation of community identified primary health care initiatives relating to the prevention and treatment of illness in rural or remote towns with populations of fewer than 5,000. Primary health care services provided under the program included community nursing, mental health, social work and counselling, health promotion and education, palliative care, child and family health, youth services, drug and alcohol services, dietetics, podiatry, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. The goals of each Regional Health Services include: supporting the community to sustain healthy lifestyles; coordinating and facilitating the introduction and delivery of programs; increasing awareness about health issues; developing appropriate skills and knowledge with respect to health service delivery; and improving the management of chronic disease in the community.
In 2005-06, the Department provided funding to three Aboriginal Medical Services and one Division of General Practice for the establishment of four new remote Regional Health Services in the West Pilbara region of Western Australia. This brought the total number of Regional Health Services across Australia to 120.
Difficulty in recruiting and retaining suitably qualified staff, particularly allied health professionals in remote areas, has been an on-going challenge in establishing new Regional Health Services.
Focus on Preventive Primary Care and Management of Chronic Disease
Rural Primary Health Program
In 2005-06, under the Rural Primary Health Program, the Department targeted the key areas of tobacco use, harmful alcohol consumption, obesity and nutrition, injury and physical activity. This program implemented seven National Rural Primary Health projects that focused on healthy lifestyle choices and preventable injury, and 31 Building Healthy Communities in Remote Australia (BHC) initiatives. During 2005-06, the Department saw the implementation of the 31 projects from planning with most through to project commencement.
The BHC projects support remote communities to find their own solutions to locally identified health priorities within the main target areas based on extensive local consultation. Projects take a preventative health approach through the implementation of local strategies and activities that target local healthy lifestyle and/or injury issues. The projects develop high quality health information for dissemination to their communities, and build the skills of community members and health professionals to support the health promotion approach.
These projects have been established in communities in remote and very remote areas of Australia. This approach was based on evidence of poorer health outcomes related to remoteness. The Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia classification ‘4 – Remote’ was chosen as the cut-off for projects to ensure that priority was given to more remote communities.
Increased Number of Health Professionals Practising in Rural Areas
University Departments of Rural Health Program
During 2005-06, under the University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH) Program, the Department contributed funding towards a number of long term infrastructure projects including student accommodation and educational facilities. UDRH student accommodation was officially opened in Port Pirie, South Australia; Lismore, New South Wales; and Swansea and Nubeena, Tasmania. The program expanded during 2005-06 to include the Monash Centre for Multi-Disciplinary Studies, increasing the national network of UDRHs to 11.
During the first half of 2005-06, 1,703 undergraduate students from a range of health disciplines completed rotational placements under the UDRH Program. Each placement was at least two weeks in duration with placements totalling 8,045 weeks. Undertaking these placements is likely to have a positive influence on these students’ choice of a career in rural health.
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Allied Health Scholarships
In 2005-06, the Department, in partnership with the Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health, administered two scholarship schemes; the Rural Allied Health Undergraduate Scholarship Scheme and the Australian Rural and Remote Health Professional Scholarship Scheme. Both schemes target students or allied health professionals living and working in rural areas and aim to assist with the costs of attending university or continuing professional development.
The Department awarded 65 scholarships, valued at $10,000 per annum, for every year of each recipient’s degree, through the new Rural Allied Health Undergraduate Scholarship Scheme. The Department commenced the scheme in November 2005 and announced the first scholarships in April 2006. Eligible disciplines under this scheme include audiology, chiropractic, dentistry, dietetics, Aboriginal health work, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, physiotherapy, podiatry, psychology and speech pathology.
In 2005-06, the Department offered 105 scholarships under the Australian Rural and Remote Health Professional Scholarship Scheme. This scheme continued to assist rural and remote health professionals, with the exception of doctors and nurses, to undertake continuing professional development opportunities such as postgraduate study, short courses, clinical placements and conference attendance.
Nurse Scholarship Program
In 2005-06, the Department continued a partnership with the Royal College of Nursing Australia for the management of the Nurse Scholarship Program. This program aims to remove some of the barriers to people from rural areas studying nursing or for nurses throughout Australia re-entering the nursing workforce. The program comprises the following three schemes:
- the Rural and Remote Undergraduate Scheme, which assists students from a rural background to study nursing. Scholarships valued at $10,000 a year (up to $30,000 over three years) are available annually for full- time study. Scholarships valued at $5,000 a year (up to $25,000 over five years) are also available for enrolled nurses wishing to up-skill to registered nurse level on a part-time basis. During 2005-06, 132 undergraduate scholarships were awarded;
- the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Scheme for Rural and Remote Nurses, which assists registered or enrolled nurses from rural and remote areas to undertake continuing professional education including postgraduate study and short courses, or attend conferences relevant to their area of work. Scholarships valued at up to $10,000 are available and offered twice annually. During 2005-06, 380 CPE scholarships for varying amounts were awarded; and
- the National Nurse Re-entry Scheme assists any registered or enrolled nurses who have been out of the nursing workforce, away from clinical practice for some time, or have allowed their registration to lapse, to gain the skills necessary to re-enter the profession. Scholarships valued at up to $6,000 each are available and offered twice annually. During 2005-06, 194 scholarships for varying amounts were awarded.
Support for Health Professionals in Rural Areas
Support Scheme for Rural Specialists
In 2005-06, the Department continued to fund the Support Scheme for Rural Specialists. Twenty-three projects were implemented under Round 5 of the Scheme, addressing factors that contribute to medical specialists moving away from rural based practice, including isolation and difficulties in accessing continuing professional development that is available to specialists in large centres.
Advanced Specialist Training Posts in Rural Areas
The Department continued to administer funding for the Advanced Specialist Training Posts in Rural Areas Program on a cost-shared basis with the states and the Northern Territory, to support accredited advanced specialist training posts in rural and regional locations. In 2005-06, the Department provided funding for 36 specialist training posts and to six medical colleges to provide support and training for advanced specialist trainees to prepare them for rural practice.
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Rural Health Support, Education and Training Grants Program
The Rural Health Support, Education and Training (RHSET) Grants Program aims to enhance the access of rural and remote communities to effective health services by improving recruitment and retention of health care workers through education, training and support. In 2005-06, the Department approved in principle 14 organisations for funding of up to two years, and by June 2006, funding agreements with 12 organisations were in place under RHSET. The funded projects include cardiac rehabilitation training for Indigenous workers in the Cape York Peninsula and Torres Strait regions and training to strengthen teams managing chronic disease in the Ballarat region. The Department also provided funding for specialised training for Indigenous health workers focused on child and maternal health in the Kimberley and training for allied health professionals in rural and remote Australia to treat elderly patients suffering illnesses related to frailty.
Strengthening Cancer Care – Mentoring Regional Cancer Services Program
In 2005-06, through the Mentoring Regional Cancer Services Program, the Department entered into 21 funding agreements with rural health providers for the establishment of mentoring frameworks to link professionals working in regional, rural and remote areas with major urban hospitals in each state or territory. Under the initiative, specialists and other leading health professionals from centres of excellence in cancer treatment are encouraged to spend more time in regional, rural and remote areas and to be available to consult with their regional colleagues to ensure high quality cancer care. The Department provided encouragement to foster multidisciplinary approaches in areas where on the ground support is less comprehensive.