Rural doctors say people in the bush can expect to die younger

The Australian Rural Doctors' Association (RDAA) says because of the shortage of doctors in rural and remote Australia people in the bush die sooner.

According to the Rural Doctors' Association the shortage of doctors in such areas is very severe and at least 1,000 doctors are needed immediately in rural and remote Australia to guarantee even basic medical coverage.

The RDAA says as of March 2007, only 2 of the 280 Queensland medical graduates from 2005 were working in rural and remote locations, and over the past 15 years less than 5% of Queensland and NSW medical graduates have gone to work in the bush.

Rural practices are often not economically viable and rural doctors work longer hours than metropolitan doctors and they also retire earlier.

RDAA president Peter Rischbieth says people living in rural and remote areas in Australia can expect to die three years earlier than those living in metropolitan areas and says there are 16,000 vacancies for General Practitioners in rural Australia, excluding the 6,000 vacant nursing positions.

Dr. Rischbieth says the health outcomes, including cancer outcomes and heart disease outcomes are already much worse in the country.

In 2005-06 it has been estimated that rural Australians received $157 million less in Medicare-funded general practice services than those living in the cities.

Around $100 million of the Commonwealth's Private Health Insurance subsidy is diverted annually to urban Australia instead of rural Australia, because those living in the bush have less access to private healthcare facilities and therefore have a lower take-up of private health insurance.

Over 50% of Australia's small rural maternity units closed down in the last 10 years and many Australians living in rural areas are forced to wait 6 weeks or more for a basic consultation with a doctor or face driving hundreds of kilometres to see a doctor.

The plight of Indigenous Australians is even worse with a life expectancy 17 years less on average with increased rates of chronic disease.

In an attempt to redress the balance Queensland Health has offered cash incentives to overseas trained doctors to fill vacancies in rural South East Queensland with the offer of government relocation grants to the value of $20,000 to international medical graduates prepared to move to the bush.

Dr. Rischbieth predicts that the crisis in patient care will worsen in metropolitan areas, unless doctor shortages in rural areas are addressed first.

In an effort to address the shortage of health professionals in rural Australia Health organisations from across the country will meet in Canberra tomorrow with representatives from 14 groups, including the National Farmers Federation, the Australian College of Midwives, and the national peak body dealing with Aboriginal health.

The Rural Doctors' Association says it will lobby the government for funding towards new models of medical practice, which combine nursing, midwifery and doctor services.

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