The long-awaited Parliamentary Inquiry into regional health was hand down last week with the committee making 44 recom-mendations to address the challenges facing the provision of health services in rural, regional and remote areas.
The inquiry process has taken 21 months, which included 15 hearings involving 220 individual witnesses (one of which was held in Cobar in April 2021), over 700 submissions and visiting seven locations around the state.
The Chair of the Portfolio Committee No. 2, the Hon. Greg Donnelly MLC, said many of the issues raised in this report are not new.
“While recognising that the provision of health services to an area as large as ru-ral, regional and remote New South Wales is challenging and complex, throughout this in-quiry the committee heard repeatedly about individuals and families let down by the health system,” Mr Donnelly said.
“The committee heard stories of emergency departments with no doctors; of patients being looked after by cooks and cleaners; of exces-sive wait times for treatment; and of misdiag-noses and medical errors.
“This evidence is by no means a reflection on the NSW Health staff working tirelessly in challenging circumstances; rather it is an in-dictment of the health system that has allowed this situation to develop.
“However, the current situation facing the residents of rural, regional and remote New South Wales can and should not be seen as acceptable,” he said.
“Key to these reforms is a significant focus on governance, including at the ministerial level, to bring about the necessary systemic change.
“Important recommendations include a re-view by NSW Health into the current funding models for all rural and regional Local Health Districts in order to identify any service deliv-ery gaps and provide any recommendations for funding increases; the development and imple-mentation of a 10-Year Rural and Remote Medical and Health Workforce Recruitment and Retention Strategy; the establishment of a Health Administration Ombudsman; and a renewed focus on workplace culture within the rural and regional Local Health Districts.”
Other recommendations in the report seek to address issues such as communication and community engagement; remuneration and employment conditions for nurses and mid-wives; rural training to build the local work-force; the Isolated Patients Travel and Ac-commodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS); the use of virtual care or ‘telehealth’; specific improvements for iden-tified sectors including oncology, palliative care and maternity services; and the devel-opment of the next Rural Health Plan.
“There is much work to be done across so many areas,” Mr Donnelly said.
“In order to ensure that focus and momen-tum for change is not lost, the committee has recommended a further inquiry to report on the progress and developments that have been made to address the matters raised in the report in two years’ time.”
The NSW Government will now have six months to respond to the committee’s rec-ommendations.
The committee’s report, findings and rec-ommendations can be found at: www.parliament.nsw.gov.au