Condition critical: Why our rural health services face $6.5 billion spending shortfall

Australia’s leading medical organisations are calling on state and federal governments to revolutionise the rural health system, with research revealing a spending shortfall of $6.5 billion.

Jun 23, 2023, updated Jun 23, 2023
A supplied image shows a Royal Flying Doctors plane. (AAP Image/Supplied by the Royal Flying Doctors) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

A supplied image shows a Royal Flying Doctors plane. (AAP Image/Supplied by the Royal Flying Doctors) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY


The National Rural Health Alliance, whose members include medical colleges, Aboriginal health organisations and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, commissioned the analysis that shows each rural Australian misses out on $850 in health spending per year.

The report by consultancy firm Nous Group found those who live in the country receive far less funding per capita than those in urban areas and workforce shortages make the problem worse.

“Further action to address these inequities would improve both social justice and economic prosperity,” the report released on Friday said.

“Rural industries such as farming, mining and tourism make up disproportionately large … portion of Australia’s economic output.

“Poor health service access is a disincentive to live in rural areas and poorer health outcomes limit the potential of rural industries.”

The alliance is calling for funding of place-based rural health programs, which are locally delivered and target specific needs of communities, along with more country-based education that would allow doctors and nurses to train in the regions.

It also wants a national rural health strategy to streamline complicated and varied funding initiatives.

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“Tweaking around the edges with trials and funding that stops after three years has exhausted rural communities,” the alliance’s chief executive Susi Tegen said.

“The 48 national members of the alliance – all passionate about rural Australia – eagerly await the much-needed direction of funds to redesign primary health care in rural Australia at the grassroots.”

The report acknowledged it was difficult to pinpoint rural disparity because of the nation’s complex public and private system and it could not measure all government expenditure.

“This analysis shows the need for greater and more strategic investment in the health of rural Australians,” the authors said.

“There is clear evidence that per-person spending on healthcare is not equitable.”

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