Every Australian, no matter their postcode, deserves quality affordable health care, but it is no secret that rural Australians are finding it more difficult to find a bulk billing doctor.
Since the formation of Medibank by the Whitlam government in the mid-1970s, equitable access to health care has been a key part of our national identity. It is part of our belief that no matter who you are, where you come from, or where you are going, you deserve the best care possible. But it is a promise that has been broken.
The health divide between Australians who live in cities and those who live in the regions is stark and growing.
According to the latest data, women in very remote areas are likely to die 19 years earlier than their counterparts in cities, for men that divide is 14 years.
There is no excuse for our society, underpinned by its strong safety net backed by programs such as Medicare and the NDIS, to stand by while people miss out on health care. And yet for the past 10 years the federal government did just that.
It is the responsibility of our government to change that.
In my role I am fortunate to travel to rural and regional communities and meet with local people face-to-face. In the conversations that I have had with locals, the message is loud and clear – there just aren’t enough healthcare professionals where people need them.
The unfortunate fact is that medical professionals educated in St Lucia aren’t moving to Longreach. This needs to change. Firstly, we need more Australians studying in our cities to uphold the promise of our country and secondly, we need to give a leg up to universities in rural towns and encourage education in the regions, for the regions.
Earlier this month I was in Cairns to welcome the first cohort of first year medical students at James Cook University. They are also testament to the changing structure of our healthcare system.
Because it is not just kids of doctors who can become doctors themselves. It’s the sons and daughters of farmers, teachers, firefighters, and everyone in between who will contribute to the positive change we all deserve. The answer to more doctors for the bush is to train more kids from the bush.