Rural doctors praise Nationals for Regional Health Plan

APN NewsdeskTHE Nationals' desire to have a minister solely dedicated to regional health has been praised by the peak body representing rural doctors.

Dr Sheilagh Cronin, president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said the Nationals' Regional Health Plan was the most welcome news regional doctors and their patients had received during the election campaign.

Earlier this week Dr Cronin criticised the major parties for failing to address regional health issues.

"It is no secret that areas of rural health policy have needed treatment for some time," Dr Cronin said.

"The Nationals' Regional Health Plan gives rural health the kind of high-quality treatment that will enable doctors to continue to do the same in their regional, rural and remote communities."

Dr Cronin said that plan addressed many of the issues RDAA raised in its election platform and included measures that would help attract and retain rural doctors and assist rural practices. In particular the creation of a ministry for regional health was an important pledge, she said.

"Importantly, the success of this portfolio will be measured through an annual reporting process that will introduce a level of accountability into the planning and delivery of health care services in the bush," she said.

But while the pledge for a regional health ministry is Nationals' policy, there is no guarantee it will be created if the Coalition wins on September 7.

APN Newsdesk asked Nationals Leader Warren Truss if the position would definitely b created if the Coalition won, whether a Nationals MP would be given the portfolio and if it would be a Cabinet position.

"It's Nationals policy. The question of ministries and portfolios and the structure of Cabinet will be a matter for Tony Abbott and Warren Truss to decide in the event we form government. There is still a long way to go in this campaign," a spokesman for Mr Truss said.

Dr Cronin also praised other elements of the Nationals' plan, including a commitment to guarantee service levels for key regional hospitals which she said would put a stop to hospital downgrades that are resulting in communities losing essential health services including maternity, mental health, accident and emergency and public dentistry.

Other elements of the plan to get a tick from the RDAA were direct funding to regional hospitals controlled by local boards that bypasses state governments; increased rural training positions; funding to improve aged care services in rural areas; greater accountability for improving rural health with reporting requirements and an annual report, and; measures to address high suicide rates in rural areas.