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AIHW data reinforces the need for targeted investment in rural health

Kununurra Western Australia

A new update released today from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that people living in very remote areas were hospitalized at almost twice the rate compared to major cities. Data also shows that access to General Practitioner visits was lowest in remote and very remote communities.

“Such appalling disparities should be rectified with targeted investment and innovative approaches. Your postcode should not determine your access to health care,” said National Rural Health Alliance Chairperson Nicole O’Reilly.

According to the AIHW analysis of data from the 2022 Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey, health risks due to alcohol and smoking, as well as arthritis, mental health issues and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are some of the significant health concerns that take a toll on rural communities.

“We need high quality, culturally safe primary healthcare in rural areas, especially for prevention and management of health and behavioural risk factors and chronic conditions. This would significantly reduce the reliance on the acute hospital sector and rectify enduring disparities in health outcomes,” said Ms O’Reilly.

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AIHW data shows that 17.5 percent of the population in outer regional and remote areas smoke compared to 9.3 percent in major cities, while 32.7 percent of those living in outer regional and remote areas exceeded lifetime alcohol risk guidelines. The proportion of the adult population who are overweight or obese is high at 69.6 percent of people in outer regional and remote areas.

“The annual health underspend in rural Australian areas is a whopping $6.55 billion, which equates to about $850 less spent on health per person per year. It shows that our rural communities are treated as second-class citizens when it comes to health care.

“The government, therefore, needs to invest in place-based models of care that meet local needs and recognize that funding models that work in the city do not work where markets are thin or failing. The Alliance has proposed a model of care and funding – Primary care Rural Integrated Multidisciplinary Health Services (PRIM-HS), which would be a solution for many rural communities.

We are also calling on the Federal government to establish a National Rural Health Strategy to bring together state and federal rural health priorities and strategies and drive tangible and sustainable improvements in rural health outcomes over time,” said Ms O’Reilly.

The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) comprises 51 national organizations committed to improving the health and wellbeing of the over 7 million people in rural and remote Australia. Our diverse membership includes representation from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, health professional organizations, health service providers, health educators and students.

Image by 4045 on Freepik.

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