1381.0 - Research Paper: A Review of Regional Development Australia Committee Regional Plans, 2013  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/03/2013  First Issue
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Image: Health word cloud

A significant number of RDA committees (48) reported at least one issue relating to health. These issues fell into three main categories: health care shortages, inadequate access to health care services and health outcomes.

5.2.1 Health Care Shortages

The most common health issue – reported by 42 RDA committees – was a shortage of health care services or health professionals, particularly in rural and remote areas. Frequently reported shortages of health professionals included general practitioners, nurses, pathologists, dentists, optometrists and other specialists such as speech pathologists, physiotherapists and podiatrists. For many regions, the difficulty of attracting and retaining medical staff in rural and remote communities was the most significant barrier to providing quality health care in these areas.

Commonly reported shortages of health care services included aged care, mental health services, maternity services, culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, domestic violence services, drug and alcohol services, emergency services and cancer care. The withdrawal of these services from small communities was a concern in several regions, as were the closure of regional hospitals and the need for access to preventative health information. Excessive demand on the public health system, evident in long waiting lists and high hospital bed occupancy rates, was a significant issue in some regions. Many RDA committees also noted that the growing and ageing population would increase the demand on health services.

5.2.2 Access to Health Care Services

Another common health issue – reported by RDA committees in 27 regions – was the isolation of rural communities from access to health care services. For example, the Hume RDA reported that access to more complex specialist health services, such as cancer and renal care was a major issue for the region (RDA Hume, 2010, p. 30). Many regions reported that residents of rural and remote communities had to travel long distances to access primary health care. The need to improve access in these communities by increasing services, public transport and assistance schemes was frequently identified.

5.2.3 Health Outcomes

Poor health outcomes were reported as being a concern in nineteen regions. High levels of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and alcoholism, were commonly reported, as was a high prevalence of behavioural risk factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise. RDA committees in several regions reported a lower-than-average life expectancy and high prevalence of cancer, mental health disorders, arthritis, asthma and osteoporosis. Significantly poorer health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations was often raised as an issue, with particular concerns including low birth weight, poor diet, a high rate of hospitalisation, diabetes, dental, renal and coronary heart disease and drug and alcohol abuse. For example, the Northern Territory RDA identified that a range of “lifestyle related health conditions” had a negative impact on Territorians’ wellbeing (RDA Northern Territory, 2011, p.9).