Date published: 
28 February 2020
Media type: 
General public

Thanks Cath (Maloney, CEO SARRAH) for inviting me here today and organising this forum.

These forums are invaluable for me and my position. I've had this role now since May last year. I had a change of title with the reshuffle a couple of weeks ago, but it is the same job but no one knew what regional services was and so, I said: look, if we’re going to change things around, how about we change my title what my job actually is.

So, that's why I’m Regional Health and Regional Communications and I managed to shed some of my other responsibilities because particularly, health is taking a significant amount of my time.

The challenges around regional health are where my focus is. It’s my priority.

I've got regional communications with the mobile phone black spots and the like, which are not problems unbeknownst to the [indistinct] incredibly important to have those connections. And so, I [indistinct] … stick to the speech I've got, but happy to take questions if possible.

So today will be another useful step in advancing policy ideas around the longstanding pressing issues in rural health and the shortage of allied health services.

And while this is a longstanding issue, as our population ages, it's becoming more pressing every day.

The health and medical needs of Australians and especially those in rural areas are more and more impacted by chronic disease, including heart disease and stroke, arthritis, diabetes and mental health conditions.

Allied health professionals from psychologists to podiatrists are essential to the multidisciplinary care needed by people with these conditions and often, they have more than one.

Over the past year, SARRAH and other peak allied health bodies have worked very constructively with the Government to develop new policy.

And last November, in conjunction with SARRAH and Marathon Health in Dubbo, I announced the Government would support a pilot Allied Health rural generalist workforce and education scheme to be administered by SARRAH, and it is for a training model to improve the recruitment and retention of Allied Health professionals in rural and remote communities across Australia.

There are other reforms on the table, as you would know. Across all aspects of rural health, we're trying to change the narrative and change the perception that rural health is not second prize.

Rural health is a rewarding, professional pathway where people can make real differences and have rewarding careers and good lives

I will digress a little. I think we’ve got a broader problem in this country. It's not just a rural medicine problem.

We've got a broader problem because if I ask some of the young people who may be considering  where their career path goes, what they have seen when they've turned on the TV for the last three years, what are they seeing?

They’ve seen dead fish. They’ve seen dry rivers. They’ve seen drought. They've seen bushfires. In some places, recently floods. And we've got to actually get the other side of the coin going, where we talk about lifestyle, community.

I live in a little town of 1200 people. I've lived there for my entire life and I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love it. And the people that live there love it. And the people of rural Australia love it. But no one will say, if you put a TV camera in front of someone from regional Australia, all they want to do is talk about their problems and never the benefits.

I think that's starting to impact on rural health as well. It’s not just a rural health decision, it's actually the decision to go and live in an area where you might die, and it’s just nonsense.

You know, there's nothing like being five minutes from your job, five minutes from your store, and five minutes from your shop. There’s nothing wrong with living in the regions.

We are currently seeing the national rural generalist pathway for GPs taking shape, and there's a lot of momentum building into similar breakthroughs with allied health.

There had already been a marked increase in the integration of rural education and training for medical nursing and allied health students.

Today, I'm pleased to launch the Australian Allied Health Leadership Forum’s mission statement on an Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway.

I commend the work of the forum and your professions to support and progress a nationally recognised sustainable rural generalist pathway for the Allied Health professionals.

I know the pilot is generating a lot of excitement from people who want to take part in that.

The National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Worley here today, is currently working on his report on the Allied Health Reform, which is in an interim stage and it will be ready for a final report at the end of June.

I understand that Professor Worley has been working very closely with SARRAH and other key stakeholders to refine his advice to ensure his final recommendations are practical and achievable.

Everyone here today appreciates the varied and complex health challenges in rural and remote areas.

Solutions require a collaborative and integrated approach and I’ve been chatting with some practitioners this morning about making sure that we use all the resources available without impacting on established services.

I call it the bowl of spaghetti effect. When I look at health services, I see a big heap of mass.

My challenge is to unravel all that and see where it starts and ends and make sure that we're making the best use of the resources we have and that's basically, the premise of where I want to go with rural health right across the board.

Everyone here today appreciates the complex health challenges in rural and remote areas and solutions require a collaborative and integrated approach.

With all of this in mind, my focus is now to plan for and develop more sustainable and integrated models of primary care.

Rural communities are leading the way with local designs and solutions to meet a region’s need for health care.

Out at Broken Hill a couple of weeks ago, I met a couple of allied health assistants, young local young Aboriginal ladies who were delightful, and enthusiastic and doing a great job assisting the allied health professionals.

They had undertaken their training in the bush. I think they did their training through TAFE and the service that they can deliver to their community, from the community, it can’t be measured.

So you know, lots of good things are happening.

We also need to give full consideration of aged care needs and the rollout of the NDIS and disability services.

When you have client based allocations on the NDIS, that's great. If you've got a choice of services you can reach with those, but in a more smaller community, it's no good having a package that’s worth a lot of money if you haven't got a service that can deliver that package.

Quite frankly, quite honestly, we’ve got a lot more work to do in that space, in the NDIS in rural Australia.

I think a collaborative approach is what is needed - you are obviously a are very, very important part of the service delivery of the NDIS – and we need more to do there.

So I greatly appreciate SARRAH’s continuing advice to me and I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure rural health services are accessible and sustainable in the communities. My door is always open.

I'm very determined. But in the [indistinct] of this job, we’re actually trying to make changes.

There are going to be changes that are driven and directed from people within the different sectors and I think having opening communication so we can talk about making sure that allied health is included in the overall picture of vital health services in a town.

I am looking at the whole approach, looking at the workforce issues right across the sector.

Enjoy your day and I am happy to take any conclusions that should come from today. Please send them through.

Thanks for having me.