Country health

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (16:15): I rise proudly today to talk about the initiatives in relation to country health, in particular, that were announced in yesterday’s budget. As we have seen all too clearly in recent times, attracting and retaining health professionals—particularly general practitioners, otherwise known as doctors—to our country towns is a challenge. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet and speak to the Rural Doctors Association of South Australia on this very topic, and I note the member for Wright, representing the opposition, was also at that same dinner.

The delivery of health services to country areas is a priority of the new government, and we went to the March election with a raft of related policies. These included fixing the backlog in country hospital capital works, and we have an initiative that will provide an additional $14 million per annum each and every year for the next 10 years for country health capital works with a renewal strategy. This will help address the backlog of sustainment works and significantly improve the amenity of our regional hospitals and health structures.

We also talked about engaging communities and clinicians for better health. This initiative provides $1 million over four years for the South Australian Healthy Towns Challenge. Under this initiative, rural and regional communities will be able to apply for a grant of up to $50,000 to help improve the health and wellbeing of people in their area.

We will be expanding country cancer services. This initiative provides $1.2 million in 2018, increasing to $1.9 million per annum from 2019, to deliver additional chemotherapy services in regional areas, thereby enabling patients to receive treatment closer to home. I am well aware of that, given we are quite some distance from Adelaide, and the provision of extra services into either Port Lincoln or Ceduna would be a wonderful thing. We will also be undertaking a statewide assessment of unmet palliative care.

Our plan is also to decentralise the public health system through the establishment of regional boards of management. This will effectively dismantle Country Health SA as we know it, with new boards having control of the health budget for the geographical area they cover. The health advisory councils will remain, and I am sure that under this new regime some of the HAC members, the community members, will feel as though their input is much more valued and they will have more responsibility and say in the day-to-day management of health delivery.

A further key policy provides $20 million to develop and implement a rural health workforce plan in order to recruit, train and develop health professionals and skilled volunteers needed to deliver country health services. We will need to work closely with the commonwealth to maximise training opportunities in country areas. This particular initiative provides a total of $20 million over the next four years for the development and implementation of a rural health workforce strategy to address the shortage of health practitioners in rural areas.

In my electorate, Cowell and Kimba have had difficulties recently maintaining a general practice. Kimba remains without a resident doctor, as does Streaky Bay. Streaky has come up with a model whereby the district council has taken responsibility for the practice, which is not ideal but they felt a responsibility to their community. Locums are currently servicing the town and the council, via a committee of management, is actively searching for a resident doctor—and my congratulations to the local government and that committee for their efforts so far.

There is also a suggestion that Port Lincoln itself might have a deficit of up to 10 doctors. It is a critical issue. The Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association has established a health working group tasked with identifying the issues in recruiting and retaining health professionals to our area. I hope to be a part of this group. I have also had active dialogue with local doctors about developing future models that are sustainable. Key to the new models will be the provision of training pathways that expose younger doctors, or introduce younger doctors, to the opportunities of working in country areas.

I look forward to this challenge of better delivering health services generally and particularly general practice to our country areas. I congratulate the Premier and the Treasurer on the budget yesterday. This new government has a real plan for real change.


Share this on social media