Bill for a Rural Health Commissioner passes through Senate

Dr Ewan McPhee. Photo: RDAA.

Dr Ewan McPhee. Photo: RDAA.

Patients seeking medical care in rural and remote areas throughout Australia could soon benefit from the appointment of a Rural Health Commissioner. 

According to Dr Ewan McPhee, president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), the motion to create the Commissioner’s role was passed through the Senate last week. 

Although it must now get through the Lower House, Dr McPhee is optimistic that this motion could help adjust a serious issue of imbalance in Australian medicine.

“We have more doctors being trained and coming into the country than Australia needs, but we still see a significant maldistribution of doctors where people who live in country areas, people who live in remote areas … we still see a lack of doctors in those areas,” Dr McPhee said. 

The difference between doctors practicing in urban, rural, and remote areas indicates a worrying trend. Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing.

The difference between doctors practicing in urban, rural, and remote areas indicates a worrying trend. Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing.

By the reckoning of the 2011 Australian Census, general practitioners (GP’s) in remote Australian locations are outnumbered by GP’s in urban areas at a ratio of more than two to one – and it was even more disproportionate in the case of specialists. 

This reveals a worrying trend, and local Yass GP Ray Burn believes that the solution lies in building a solid medical foundation in rural areas. 

“It’s a matter of increasing services in rural areas,” Dr Burn said. 

“It’s a fact that people in the country die earlier than people in the city. Not because the country is unhealthy, far from it, but because the services are poorer.” 

“We need more practitioners in the country, but not by simply taking one in three out of the city.”

Dr Burn claimed that the Australians “don’t believe in education”, and instead proposed that a fundamental shift in perception towards universities might be more effective.  

“In the [Gough] Whitlam era, we had free university. Now we don’t have that. We believe in public education, but only up until Year 12, after that you’ve got to pay. 

“What we should be doing is taking the fees off university, and training more people in more fields, especially those that are needed. 

“And there is certainly a need in the health sciences.” 

The bill was first introduced to the House of Representatives earlier this year by Dr David Gillespie, Minister for Health, who said the very first task of the Commissioner will be to “develop a National Rural Generalist Pathway, to improve access to training for doctors in regional, rural and remote Australia.”