Earlier this year, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), in partnership with the National Farmers Federation (NFF), conducted a survey of country health consumer priorities asking what were the most important health issues for people living in the bush and what areas of health money should be spent.
The research report, Health Care Access, Mental Health and Preventative Health; Health Priority Survey Findings for People in the Bush, concluded that overcoming barriers in access to medical services is the most important consideration of health consumers in country Australia.
The survey of 450 country people drawn from every state and territory saw one-third of responses (32.5%) name doctor and medical specialist access as their key priority. Addressing mental health (12.2%) and drug and alcohol problems (4.1%) were second and third priorities.
When asked where additional health expenditure should be targeted, 32.2% of responses said more funding was needed to expand access to medical services in country areas. 14.6% called for more funding of mental health programs, and health prevention and promotion was identified by 8.6% as the third priority for more funding.
Positively, more than two-thirds of responses (68.7%) said they travelled less than an hour to see a doctor for a non-emergency, with the remaining responses travelling anywhere from one to five hours. Four percent of responses travelled for more than five hours to see a doctor.
More than half (58.3%) of respondents saw a doctor within four hours for urgent medical care, with the remaining seeing a doctor anywhere from the same day to six or more days later.
A rural health strategy for better access to doctors and medical specialists, supported by more health prevention, is needed.
Martin Laverty, CEO, Royal Flying Doctor Service
RFDS CEO Martin Laverty said “Country health consumers haven’t always had a voice in national debate. The survey has given them a voice. The voice of the bush says more needs to be done to ensure country people can see health professionals in person or via telehealth when needed.
“The research findings a pretty stark. Country people have said they are missing out on seeing medical specialists. They miss out on some pathology and diagnostic tests. The want more attention on health prevention to halt illness before it starts.
“The survey findings endorse decisions of successive governments who’ve invested in rural health, but the survey demands more be done. A rural health strategy for better access to doctors and medical specialists, supported by more health prevention, is needed,” Mr Laverty said.
...we need to address medical health issues that are directly related to the remoteness of communities and target those services that most effectively meet the needs of the bush.
Tony Mahar, CEO, National Farmers' Federation