The National Rural Health Alliance has welcomed recommendations from the Senate Inquiry on rural health that recognise the role of nurses and allied health professionals in country Australia.
Released on 22 August, the report - ‘The factors affecting the supply of health services and medical professionals in rural areas’ - included 18 recommendations. Key among these was that the HECS reimbursement scheme be extended to nurses and allied health professionals who relocate to rural areas.
Gordon Gregory, executive director of the National Rural Health Alliance, described the extension of the HECS scheme as “the most tangible benefit in the report affecting nurses and allied health workers.” This signified an important shift in thinking in regard to ensuring the full spectrum of health offerings was available in rural areas, he added.
“A less immediately tangible but nonetheless highly significant benefit is that the report as a whole recognises an equivalence between all health professionals, notwithstanding the fact that rural incentive schemes for doctors have been in place for many years.”
Gregory also welcomed recommendations in the report that focused on the importance of harnessing up to date data on demand for nurses and allied health workers in rural areas.
“This will give us all a much better grip on where the shortages really are, which in turn can underpin concrete, sustainable measures to address those shortages.”
One such recommendation was
that “the classification systems currently used for workforce incentives purposes be replaced with a scheme that takes account of regularly updated geographical, population, workforce, professional and social data to classify areas where recruitment and retention incentives are required.”
The report also recommended that the post of a Rural and Regional Allied Health Adviser should be established within the Government’s Rural and Regional Health Australia department, to coordinate and advise on allied health service provision in rural and regional Australia. As part of the Department of Health and Ageing, Rural and Regional Health Australia should also play a role in using updated research to assess current gaps in knowledge, it recommended.