Big boost for rural health infrastructure

27 May, 2010 04:00 AM
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RURAL health throughout WA will benefit from last week's State Budget, with $272 million of the $900m allocated to the Royalties for Regions program, contributing to upgrading medical services in the bush.

This year's budget provides the biggest ever injection of additional funding for the State's health system, after a 6.7 per cent or $348m increase in health funding.

Next year, $5.6 billion dollars will be spent on health throughout WA, with the Royalties for Regions funds contributing to refurbishing hospitals, boosting ambulance services, training junior doctors and upgrading remote indigenous health infrastructure.

The aging Nickol Bay Hospital in Karratha will get a $150m makeover, Carnarvon Hospital ($20.7m), Kalgoorlie Hospital ($15.5m), Esperance Hospital ($18.8m) and the Albany Hospital will get $60.9m.

A toal of $9 million dollars will be spent over three years to support the training of junior doctors in regional areas and $26m over four years will contribute to St John Ambulance country services.

Head of the Rural Clinical School of WA Professor Geoff Riley said the funding allocated to rural health is vital for reducing the shortage of doctors in the bush.

Professor Riley said providing appropriate infrastructure in regional areas so junior doctors can train in the bush will help encourage them to stay there for the long term.

"This funding aimed at training rural doctors is hugely relevant and timely and we're very pleased about it," he said.

A total of 77 medical students will spend this year studying medicine in rural areas.

"There is a huge surge of demand of students and doctors wanting to work in the bush and now we have this budget for enthusiastic, young medical students and young doctors who want to go bush," Professor Riley said.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) WA president Prof Gary Geelhoed said while almost $150m had been earmarked for more staff and 25 new vehicles for St John Ambulance, it was disappointing that only $26 million was being taken from Royalties for Regions funds.

"It's hard to imagine a greater need for country people than better more accessible health services," Prof Geelhoed said.

"How good would it be, for instance, if the funds were used to help attract doctors into regional WA?"

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