THE statistics on declining life expectancy outside our big cities paint a damning picture of not only the health care inequalities between rural and urban Australia, but highlights the importance of education around healthy lifestyle choices and the facilities that make healthy living possible.
A four- to five-year drop in life expectancy only 400-odd kilometres from Sydney and a life expectancy equivalent with Ecuador for those in remote regions are stark reminders of how city focused our governments have been.
It’s no wonder city dwellers are reluctant to move to country towns.
They may feel they are essentially giving up years of their life.
The announcement by Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash of a new program to attract and keep doctors in smaller towns addresses just one aspect of this, but an important one.
Access to quality health services, particularly doctors, has been a weak point in the ability of rural areas to attract new people.
Programs such as the Regional Relocation Grants have been ineffective in encouraging people to rural areas because the core infrastructure, in particular health, has been lacking.
In encouraging doctors back to country towns, governments (State and federal) need to see the program not in isolation, but as a starting point on which it can grow other aspects that will help attract people to and retain them in rural areas.
But first, they must retain the doctors.
One group of Cowra doctors featured in The Land last year (“Focus on quality health at Cowra”, November 28,p32) understands this.
With a population of just 10,000 – marginally larger than Gunnedah at 7900, which was featured at last week’s
rural Medicine Australia Conference as having a life expectancy of 4.6 years fewer than Sydney – these Cowra doctors recognised the importance of creating the right environment to attract and retain doctors.
These doctors also recognised without good health services, country towns crumbled.
So as the government begins its implementation of its
modified Monash University classification system, it also
needs to keep in mind the environment within which it
expects these doctors to establish themselves, because
a better payment model alone won’t solve the doctor