Date published: 
15 June 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

DOMINIC INGERSOLE:

The Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications, and Local Government, the Honourable Mark Coulton. Mark, thank you very much for your time on the show this morning.

MARK COULTON:

Morning, Dominic. How are you?

DOMINIC INGERSOLE:

I am very well, thank you. Now, this sounds like it is going to be an absolute win for rural and regional Australia?

MARK COULTON:

Yes. The Regional and Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Worley, was appointed in 2017 and he's done a mighty job with formulation of policy for the government in the Rural Generalist Pathway.

He’s more recently played an active role in coordinating the government's efforts in the regional areas with COVID-19. He has also done a great body of work on allied health and the workforce in the regions.

Building on that - the job that Professor Worley’s done, he finishes up at the end of this month - the new commissioner will have a slightly different role.

The new commissioner will be looking at implementation of policies we've got.

They'll be keeping an eye on the Murray Darling Medical School rollout and with the assistance of two deputy commissioners in allied health, Indigenous health and nursing, broadening out the approach, realising that to put health services into a regional down you need more than GP’s.

You need a full array of skills from nursing, allied health, pharmacy, all of that. So, we've been broadening the rollout.

DOMINIC INGERSOLE:

During COVID-19 we have seen a number of changes in regional health when it comes to the way that doctors can send prescriptions to pharmacies, for examples. And of course the increase in Telehealth services. Do you think that this is something that might stick around longer after COVID-19 recovery?

MARK COULTON:

Look, I am positive it will.

It was one of the quickest reforms that we have seen. Normally those things take years, and this reform took weeks.

It has not been perfect. It has been very well received and it's done a great job.

It will continue on, with some fine tuning. I think it is still very, very important that people have relationships with their doctor or their specialist, and so we’ve just got to make sure that we don't see health call centres where people do away with having a local GP and try to deal with everything on a telephone.

I think telehealth, particularly in regional Australia, has a great role to play to keep you in touch with your GP, but basically you need to have a relationship with a GP. So, it’s here to stay.

We're just working now on fine tuning the policy so that it's relevant for post-COVID-19. It's done a great job during the pandemic, though.

DOMINIC INGERSOLE:

And do we have any idea when the new commissioner and the deputy commissioners will be named?

MARK COULTON:

So, the new commissioner will be named before 1 July, so probably next week some time.

The new commissioner will have a role, along with myself, to choose the deputy commissioners and formulate the policy for the job at hand. So it'll all happen fairly smoothly.

The legislation will be debated in the House of Representatives this week, and if it does not make it through the Senate – because it is quite a busy legislative workload over in the Senate – we have arrangements in place so that the commissioner can start even if the legislation hasn't gone through the Senate.

DOMINIC INGERSOLE:

Again, it sounds like it's going to be a great win for regional and rural health. We know that a lot of the health services in regional areas are still crying out, and we know that we need more doctors and nurses out here. And having a dedicated commissioner sounds like it's definitely the right way to go about making sure that these issues are getting the attention that they need.

MARK COULTON:

We've got to change the dialogue and stop talking about a health crisis to an opportunity.

Part of the commissioner's job will be to reframe the mindset of junior doctors and students that are going to work in a regional centre.

Apart from being very rewarding, apart from being a great area of need, it can be a very satisfying career and lifestyle choice. That does require having support around junior doctors, and that's what the health commissioner will be doing.

DOMINIC INGERSOLE:

Mark, thank you very much for your time on the show this morning.

MARK COULTON:

Thanks very much, Dominic.

DOMINIC INGERSOLE:

No worries, all the best. The Honourable Mark Coulton there, Minister of Regional Health Regional Communications and Local Government as well, just letting us all know that the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner - that program will be extended and in fact, a couple of deputy commissioners will also be appointed.