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17 May, 2022

Health inquiry releases findings

The findings of the NSW government’s ‘Inquiry into Regional, Rural and Remote Health’ were released last earlier this month following a year-long process which heard repeatedly of individuals and families let down by the state health system.

By Natasha May

Greg Donnelly, the chair of the inquiry, said the committee heard stories of emergency departments with no doctors, of patients being looked after by cooks and cleaners, of excessive wait times for treatment, and of misdiagnoses and medical errors.

The committee found because of workforce short- ages “rural, regional and remote patients have signif- icantly poorer health outcomes, greater incidents of chronic disease and greater premature deaths when compared to their counterparts in metropolitan areas”.

The report said these were historic failures.

State member for Barwon, Roy Butler, said “the report validates our lived experience and confirmed what we all knew”.

Mr Butler wrote in his submission to the committee that “recommendations from this inquiry that propose, systemic, drastic change is the only satisfactory out- come. We are beyond tinkering on the edges”.

The committee made 44 recommendations, but the forthcoming government response will determine which are implemented.

The recommendations included that the NSW health department work with the Australian government col- laboratively to immediately invest in the development and implementation of a 10-year rural and remote med- ical and health workforce recruitment and retention strategy. Mr Butler said another significant recommen- dation was one which he put forward in his submission that the government should adopt a “health in all poli- cies” framework.

He said that solving the problems with regional health required "a whole of government coordinated approach in partnership with community and industry".

“It is now up to the government to act on these rec- ommendations and implement them,” said Mr Butler.

Minister for regional health, Bronnie Taylor, said the government will consider all options to improve region-

al healthcare. “Everything is on the table when it comes to improving health outcomes in rural and regional NSW. Implementing bold new measures to attract key health workers to work in our regional health facilities and retaining that workforce will be a key focus of mine,” she said.

Mrs Vicki Kearines’s 92-year-old father, Ronald Short, spent his final days in Narromine hospital, treat- ed by telehealth doctors.

His family had to fight to gain access to a syringe driver for pain relief for Mr Short.

Mrs Kearines made a submission to the inquiry and appeared at the Dubbo hearing of the inquiry in May 2021. However, she is not all that pleased with the rec- ommendations.

"I must admit I’m a little disappointed with the rec- ommendations. I feel once again lots of money has been spent to produce a document filled with lots of words that at the end of the day will change nothing for those of us in rural NSW.

“Yes, they addressed the virtual doctor and visiting medical officer issues, but I feel they really didn’t give a solution to the problems.

“They have no recommendations really in regard to staffing shortages or the poor access to healthcare in our local hospitals,” said Mrs Kearines.

“It remains to be seen if the government will take any action on any of the recommendations and if they do, if it will be at any of the local health areas.”

Greens NSW health spokesperson, Cate Faehrmann, is calling on the government and the opposition to put politics aside and work together, with all stakeholders, to fix the rural, regional, and remote public health sys- tem.

“The establishment of a regional health minister, and new regional health division within NSW health, shows that this inquiry had teeth and has already spurred the government to act.

“It’s imperative that the momentum is not lost.

“I urge both sides of politics to commit to all recom- mendations and give this issue just as much attention after the state election due in March next year as it has received throughout the duration of this inquiry,” said Ms Faehrmann 

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