“Both Federal and State governments, right across the country, need to step up and invest in rural health if they are serious about this.
There have been numerous examples of initiatives developed to improve access to health care in rural and remote areas being extended into urban areas to prop up under-funded services in for the socially disadvantaged.
This has resulted in the unintended consequence of further disadvantaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in rural and remote Australia.
We need continued investment in health infrastructure and services aimed at addressing the disparity in health outcomes between those who live in the city and those who live in the bush… and this extends across both our Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.
Without this, as a nation we are never going to close the gap, and the divide for the health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people living in rural and remote Australia will never be addressed.”
Dr John Hall, President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), said that without access to high quality health services in rural areas, the gap will never close.
” I’m particularly concerned with successive government failure to halve Indigenous child mortality rates.
A lot of this is about access, it’s around health literacy.
It’s also about the holistic care, it’s also around education, housing and a whole range of other things”.
Australia needs to boost hospital and birthing facilities in rural and regional areas in order to overcome entrenched Indigenous health disadvantage, according to Rural Doctors Association of Australia CEO Peta Rutherford told SkyNews .
Another disappointing Closing the Gap Report, released this month [12 February 2020], demonstrates why health care in rural and remote Australia is a key driver to Closing the Gap in health.
“The Government’s Closing the Gap Report 2020 showed that the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on key health indicators has not closed,” Dr Hall said.
“Two key health-related benchmarks were chosen by the
Government in 2008, with a target of halving the gap in child mortality by 2018, and to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031.
“Neither of these targets are on track.
“The main cause of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child deaths are perinatal conditions such as complications of pregnancy and birth.
“With 85 per cent of these deaths occurring during the first year of life, maternal health and risk
factors during pregnancy play a crucial role.
“Access to quality, culturally safe, medical care is the most direct way of improving these outcomes,” Dr Hall said.
Similarly, life expectancy in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is strongly influenced by health and health care, with the report attributing 34 per cent of the gap to social determinants (such as education, employment status, housing and income), 19 per cent to behavioural risk factors (such as smoking, obesity, alcohol use and diet), leaving 47 per cent attributed to what is clearly a disparity in health outcomes and associated health care issues.
In rural and remote areas there is a noticeable difference of a more than six year reduction in life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males and females, when compared to those living in major cities.
This demonstrates a failure across the board in these key areas, all of which are influenced by the provision of quality health care.
“Clearly we can’t close the gap without a functional health system in rural and remote Australia,” Dr Hall said.
“And this cannot just be solved through funding Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS); the other parts of the health system need to be equally funded to service these communities in order to be able to provide the standard of care that will result in a reduction in the gap in health outcomes.
“We can’t have hospital services downgraded and expect to close the gap.
“We can’t have communities with no access to medical birthing services and expect to close the gap.
“We can’t have people needing to travel hundreds of kilometres to access cancer or surgical treatment and close the gap.
“We need quality rural hospitals, staffed by Rural Generalist doctors, with the skills needed to meet the needs of these communities in both the General Practice and hospital settings, if we are serious about improving health outcomes and actually closing the gap.