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Cure the rot: doctors

Tuesday, 8th May, 2012

By Erica Visser

The Federal Government needs to allocate more money to country healthcare in the budget, according to the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA). 

The Treasurer will announce the much-awaited budget today and the RDAA has urged the Government not to put country Australia in the corner.

“We know the Government is committed to delivering a budget surplus this year but cutting back on rural health funding in any way, shape or form would be plain crazy,” RDAA’s President, Dr Paul Mara, said yesterday.

“We have been warning governments for many years of the enormous need for significant new funding for rural healthcare, and budget after budget we continue to face a brick wall.

“The health and wellbeing of these people should not be allowed to continue to slip through the cracks.”

The Chairman of the Far West Local Health District, Dr Steve Flecknoe-Brown, agreed that rural healthcare was heavily underfunded.

“There is absolutely no doubt that there is a very clear maldistribution when it comes to healthcare funding,” Dr Flecknoe-Brown said.

“Even with funding that is pledged to rural services, a lot of that is taken away back to the cities...with people who fly-in, fly-out.

“When you’ve got one third of the number of GPs working in regional areas and one tenth the specialists, of course that’s a recipe for not enough money.

“So there’s all sorts of evidence to back up the claim that rural health services are underfunded.”

Dr Flecknoe-Brown said that funding should also go towards reducing the apparent reluctance of health professionals to work in rural areas.

He suggested that one way of doing so would be to make country work experience a compulsory part of specialist training.

“Most of the time when our doctors ring up they get treated like they are short of a few quid. We’re stigmatised,” Dr Flecknoe-Brown said.

“By boosting funding in rural clinical schools and making compulsory a year of working in a rural centre...we’d have overcome one of the prejudices.

“I don’t know how that comes into the budget but some real enforcement of the principal of what life is like in regional Australia...the Government can’t force people to work where they don’t want to, but it could be made that in training people this is the condition.”

Dr Flecknoe-Brown also welcomed an announcement yesterday by the Federal Government to pay grants of up to $120,000 to dentists who move to the country.

“Dentistry and mouth care is a particular issue here and in smaller communities due to the water...and kids prefer to drink Coca Cola anyway,” he said.

“It’s only the Royal Flying Doctor Service that actually provides dental services in these smaller communities so certainly high on my wish list would be a way of guaranteeing quality of dental services in rural and regional areas.”

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