THE SA branch of the Australian Medical Association released its 2022 state election priorities this week, calling for an investment in rural health services from the incoming government.
With the election right round the corner, both the Labor and Liberal parties have released their commitments to health if elected in March, but AMASA vice-president and Port Lincoln GP John Williams said the announcements were "just words until put into action".
Labor's health commitments include $100 million for country health, with $6.1m pledged to boost ambulance coverage in Victor Harbor and Goolwa, $33.1m for improved health care in the Upper Spencer Gulf region, $52.7m to upgrade the regional health system and care in the Limestone Coast and a $10m upgrade for Kangaroo Island Hospital at Kingscote.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party is yet to announce any new funding amounts in rural areas, but its existing commitments to expanding and upgrading regional hospitals and emergency departments and addressing the shortage of country health practitioners still stand.
"It's important to have both major parties talking about health and what's needed in regional communities," Dr Williams said.
"I hope they understand access to health services is a basic human need and right and that doesn't just stop at the city.
"As it stands, patients are not getting the care they need, which leads to increased suffering and unnecessary deaths - this is the harsh reality of not addressing rural health needs."
While the theme of inaccessibility to health services flowed across the state, Dr Williams said rural communities faced unique obstacles that metropolitan Adelaide does not.
Dr Williams said without adequate health services not only would patients suffer, but regional communities would suffer too, as the issue had a flow-on effect to other industries.
"For example, the number of general practitioners on the Eyre Peninsula continues to drop and the situation is dire," he said.
"We need to see more doctors coming to regional areas and there are infinite clever projects we can implement to create change in this area.
"It's hard to put the issue down to one thing, there have been improvements in lots areas but it does need a concerted effort from multiple areas so see a real change.
"We don't want to see money just thrown at a project with a hope it'll fix it - we want to see the effort put into a project, then if that project isn't working, try a different angle.
"We can't just have one solution because the issue is multi-faceted."
Our state needs regional communities to flourish - they will only do so if they have the essential services and attractive amenities to keep people in rural towns.- MICHELLE ATCHISON
In a press conference this week, AMASA president Dr Michelle Atchison said better infrastructure, better staffing and new technology in rural areas were all priorities for the association.
"We ask that as the incoming government examines its books, it recognises that a focus on public health is the economically justifiable foundation of a healthy and strong community," she said in a statement.
"Our state needs regional communities to flourish - they will only do so if they have the essential services and attractive amenities to keep people in rural towns.
"Health services - along with schools - are among the most essential of these services.
"But despite repeated calls from rural doctors, and the residents and communities they are committed to serving, rural areas do not receive equitable funding to provide adequate and safe health care to the people who live and work there."
According to its priorities document, AMASA has worked with the Rural Doctors Association in South Australia in recent months to develop and advocate for conditions that adequately reward rural doctors for their efforts in providing care and securing health services in rural towns and centres.
It asks funding be made available for an independent, external, evidence-based report of the impacts of the new agreement and other clinical developments in the local health networks, to measure and evaluate the state's investment in rural health.
Other rural priorities include greater investment in care for the elderly, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues and people at end of life in community settings and out of hospital.
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