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8 May 2007
The Budget includes new funding of $274.5 million to improve the health services and equipment available to meet the health care needs of people living in rural and remote areas.
The Commonwealth Government remains committed to building Australia’s rural and regional health workforce. The Budget includes extra support, announced by the Prime Minister on 16 April, for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and more funding for additional mental health services in drought-affected communities to improve the capacity of these communities to respond to drought- related emotional crisis.
The Budget also contains new initiatives to increase the number of doctors, dentists and women GPs to move to and remain in rural areas.
Royal Flying Doctor Service – additional funding
As announced by the Prime Minister in April 2007, the Government will ensure an Australian icon – the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) – continues to service rural and remote communities through additional funding of up to $156.6 million over five years from 2006-07, increasing the Commonwealth Government’s funding of the RFDS to approximately $274 million over this period.
This funding, which was announced by the Prime Minister on 16 April 2007, will mean that the RFDS can continue to deliver vital services to Australians who live, work or travel in rural and remote areas.
The package will cover the cost of services including aero-medical evacuations and primary health and community care clinics, as well as capital requirements such as aircraft replacement.
It will also allow the RFDS to provide primary health care services to islands in Bass Strait for the first time. In addition, the Government will contribute towards the cost of a new aircraft for RFDS services in Central Australia.
Mental Health – increased mental health services for drought-affected communities
People in drought-affected communities need access to mental health services that meet their particular needs, given the additional stresses and prolonged pressures associated with severe drought.
The Government is committing $30.7 million to improve the delivery of mental health support and services to drought-affected rural and remote communities. As part of this, $20.6 million over four years will be provided to up to 114 additional allied health and/or mental health nursing professionals in drought-affected areas through the existing Mental Health Services in Rural and Remote Areas
This includes a further $10.1 million will be delivered through the Mental Health Support for Drought-affected Communities
initiative. This will provide crisis counselling services for distressed individuals in drought-declared rural areas, as well as education and training for clinicians and community leaders. It will also increase the capacity of communities to respond to drought-related psychological trauma. Funding will be provided to up to 39 individual Divisions of General Practice covering a wide range of drought-affected rural and remote communities throughout Australia.
Rural Clinical Schools Program – funding for the University of Wollongong
A new rural clinical school will be created in NSW through the University of Wollongong at a cost of $16.3 million over four years.
The new school will allow up to 60 medical students every year to complete a substantial part of their clinical training in rural areas. The University of Wollongong plans to operate the school across rural and remote NSW, using general practices as teaching sites for medical students.
Introduced in the 2000-01 Budget, the Rural Clinical Schools Program allows medical students to undertake clinical training placements in rural locations, which in turn can help them to choose a career in rural medicine.
Dental school – Charles Sturt University
Currently there are limited rural training opportunities for dental students to undertake clinical training outside major metropolitan centres.
This Budget commits $65.1 million over four years for a new School of Dentistry and Oral Health to be established at Charles Sturt University, NSW (with $58.5 million through the Department of Health and Ageing and $6.6 million through the Department of Education, Science and Technology).
The new School will be a focal point in Australia for students wishing to train and practise dentistry in rural and regional areas, as it will be rolled out over five regional sites: pre-clinical and clinical facilities will be constructed in Orange and Wagga Wagga, while three dental education clinics will be constructed in Albury, Bathurst and Dubbo.
Dental training – expanding rural placements
More dentists will also be encouraged to work in regional Australia through two other initiatives. A new program will create rural dental schools to provide city-based dentistry students with experience in country towns as part of their training, and a new program of scholarships will encourage Indigenous people to study dental health.
The Government will provide $12.5 million over four years to offer 30 annual rural clinical placements to city dental students. Indigenous students will also be encouraged to work in dentistry through three $15,000 scholarships per year under the expanded Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme.
Visiting Optometrists Scheme – increase funding
The Commonwealth Government is committing $8.6 million over four years to increase the level of support and eye health service provided to people in very remote communities through the Visiting Optometrists Scheme.
This measure will fund an increase in both the number of optometrists providing services under the scheme – up from 70 to 100 – as well as in the number of communities that benefit from the scheme.
Rural Retention Program – continued and increased funding
Rural and remote areas continue to experience a shortage of GPs due to difficulties in recruiting and retaining them.
The Rural Retention Program was introduced eight years ago to encourage GPs who agree to work in rural and remote locations to stay in these areas by providing direct incentive payments.
Funding for the Rural Retention Program will be increased by $9.6 million over four years to provide financial grants for approximately 400 new doctors to practise in eligible rural and remote areas. The grants will range from $5,000 to $25,000 depending on the remoteness of the location in which they are practising.
Rural Women’s GP Service – expand services for women
Many women prefer to see a female doctor for some or all of their health needs. But in rural and remote areas, they may not have that choice.
The Rural Women’s GP Service has been successful in providing rural women with access to female GPs. It will be expanded to an additional 32 locations throughout Australia, at a cost of $4.3 million over four years.
The expansion will enable the service to provide an additional 6,200 rural and remote consultations by 2010-11, taking it to more than 21,000 consultations a year in around 180 locations.
MRI unit for Dubbo
Following an election commitment, a new Medicare-eligible MRI opened in Dubbo (NSW) in December 2006. The Budget includes an additional start-up grant funding for the new MRI unit in Dubbo of $1.5 million over three years to ensure affordable access to an MRI unit in the Dubbo region. Half a million dollars has already been provided for the first year of operation.
Use of this sophisticated technology will improve diagnosis of cancer, strokes and many other serious conditions.
Media contact: Claire Kimball 0413 486 926