Doctors worried rural health is downgraded under new government

Doctors worried rural health is downgraded under new government


Politics
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The rural health portfolio is missing from the Coalition government's new ministerial line up.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison's new ministry was sworn into office by the Governor General in Canberra today, with one surprising omission.

There will be no Minister for Rural Health, which is a worrying sign according to the Rural Doctor's Association of Australia.

"We remain very disappointed that Rural Health has again been denied a dedicated portfolio," said RDAA president Dr Adam Coltzau.

"Having a critical issue like rural health without a dedicated portfolio has a significant flow-on effect. It means that rural health is deemed not significant enough."

The Liberal and Nationals parties have not been able to agree on who should do the job.

The choice appears to come down to Nationals MP Mark Coulton, who represents the vast inland NSW electorate of Parkes, and Liberal MP Greg Hunt, who represents Flinders on Melbourne's south-eastern fringe.

It's unclear who is best placed to handle the challenging role of managing health services for Australians living outside major cities.

Mr Coulton is an experienced rural representative, but his workload increased significantly today.

On top of his ongoing role of Assistant Trade Minister, Mr Coulton is now Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government.

Mr Hunt, the incumbent Health Minister, has one of the most high-profile and challenging roles in government. It remains to be seen if rural health can be receive sufficient attention under the watch of one minister.

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"The seven million people who live across rural and remote Australia - and who often face significant waiting times to see a doctor or an allied health professional, or who need to travel long distances to access a health service - would argue fiercely that it should (have its own ministry)," Dr Coltzau said.

"While some positive initiatives - like the National Rural Generalist Pathway - are being progressed, there is much more to be done to boost the rural health workforce and improve access to healthcare in the bush."

Since it formed government in 2013 the Coalition's management of rural health has taken a winding path.

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash was responsible for rural health when she was Assistant Health Minister from 2013 to 2015.

Starting in November 2015, Ms Nash became the inaugural Rural Health Minister, when it first became a standalone portfolio.

In July 2016 Rural Health was managed by an Assistant Minister again, when Nationals MP David Gillespie took on the role.

Then in December 2017 Nationals Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie took charge of a reformed, stand-alone Rural Health Ministry.

However, Ms McKenzie managed rural health among a range of other responsibilities, when she served as Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government.

Ms McKenzie has today become Agriculture Minister, leaving a question mark over rural health.

The story Doctors worried rural health is downgraded under new government first appeared on Farm Online.

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