Iain Curry

Rural health ignored in election campaign, say doctors

RURAL health is being overlooked for vital infrastructure funding by both major parties, the group representing bush doctors says.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Sheilagh Cronin said rural health funding had been "bypassed during the election campaign while billions of dollars was pledged for roads and rail infrastructure".

Dr Cronin said this lack of investment in rural health infrastructure was holding some towns back.

"Many rural towns need expanded facilities so that more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals can provide much-needed healthcare to their communities" Dr Cronin said.

"Inadequate infrastructure is holding many rural medical practices back from being able to expand their services.

"If Australia wants to reap the benefits of the resources and agriculture sector, we need to ensure the rural communities servicing these sectors have good medical facilities. Families and businesses will not move into these communities without good medical services."

The RDAA's plea came as both Labor and the Greens made rural health funding announcements on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in Brisbane ahead of the second leaders' debate to reveal Labor's $15.1 million plan to establish a network of 34 cancer care nurse co-ordinators who would provide people diagnosed with cancer with information, care and support, as well as access and referral to specialists and services, and ongoing of care.

Labor predicts the measure, which has been accounted for the budget, would benefit as many as 7600 rural cancer patients and their families during the next four years.

Most of the co-ordinators would be located in each of the 26 Commonwealth-funded Regional Cancer Centre projects, including seven in Queensland and six in New South Wales. A further five co-ordinators would be dedicated to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

Meanwhile, the Greens unveiled a plan to invest $550 million over three years in mental health services across rural and regional Australia.

The funding would be used to expand the Headspace model to other age groups, help country mental health services attract and retain staff, run a campaign addressing stigma, invest in neighbourhood houses and community centres and boost outreach and telepsychiatry services.

Launching the Greens' rural mental health policy in Launceston on Wednesday, the party's mental health spokeswoman, Penny Wright, said the plan was based on recommendations sought directly from rural communities.

"Years of under-investment in rural mental health continues to cost lives all across country Australia," Senator Wright said.

"The current rural mental health workforce is under-staffed, under-resourced and under-trained, with almost 90% of psychiatrists and two thirds of mental health nurses based in major cities. This leaves the 30% of Australians who live in rural and regional areas without life-saving services and care."