Cuts to rural health funding

Photo of wheat field - concerns for rural health funding cuts

Credit – Penny Mulvey

Rev David Thompson, administration minister for the Uniting Church’s Presbytery of Western Victoria has written to Sussan Ley, Minister for Health and Fiona Nash, Minister for Rural Health to protest the June 2016 funding cessation of the Health Consumers of Rural and Remote Australia (HCRRA) organisation.

Operating since 1996, HCRRA works to improve health outcomes for people in the bush. It relies on dedicated volunteers to represent the views of health consumers living in regional Australia. The organisation has representation in every state of Australia and focuses on medical access for people living in rural and remote regions. It provides an informed voice to larger organisations such as the National Rural Health Alliance, Australian Health Care Reform Alliance, the Consumers Health Forum and Department of Health. It is feared that the demise of HCRRA could mean much of this contact as well as the individual experiences of consumers is lost.

Before entering church ministry six-and-a-half years ago, Mr Thompson worked for a number of medical organisations advocating the needs of rural Australia.

“This is a community concern and as a rural minister I have learnt that medical care encompasses the need for spiritual, physical and mental care,” Mr Thompson said.

“To remove an organisation focused on representing people living in remote areas is a serious matter. Access to adequate medical and social services has to be struggled and fought for and it is disappointing that once again, country people appear to be burdened with a disproportionate share of the cost-cutting.”

Health Consumers of Rural and Remote Australia has been particularly effective in lobbying for better patient assistant transport programs. The challenge of regular dialysis treatment or visiting specialists takes on added stress when long distance travel is required.

“Even simplifying administrative processes such as filling in forms has been improved by the organisation’s input,” said Mr Thompson. “It sounds basic but these things can cause anxiety when you are dealing with ill health and remote accessibility.”

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recognises the importance of health services for those living in rural locations. Its website states:

“People living in rural areas tend to have shorter lives and higher levels of illness and disease risk factors than those in major cities… on average, people living in rural Australia do not always have the same opportunities for good health as those living in major cities…”

Jeff Wearne is the Executive Officer of HCRRA. He said that their funding, though modest, made a difference to health consumers.

“We have been receiving $60,000 a year, that’s our entire budget, and it’s the equivalent of a fairly basic clerical role in the Department of Health. We are not asking for a huge sum to continue our work,” Mr Wearne said.

The organisation is scheduled to lose funding in June 2016.

If you, like Rev David Thompson, wish to add your voice to this decision you can email Health Minister Sussan Ley at Minister.Ley@health.gov.au and/or Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash at Minister.Nash@health.gov.au

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