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Better Access to Medical Services for Rural Families

John Cobb, Parliamentary Secratary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services

TRS18/Budget 10th May 2005

Families in small rural communities will have better access to medical services as a result of the Australian Government's three-year, $15.0 million Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund, announced in today's Budget.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Cobb, said the Government would spend $5.0 million on the fund in 2005-06.

“We promised in the election campaign that we would establish the Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund to help provide better health services for families in rural areas. Today's announcement delivers on our promise,” Mr Cobb said.

“In small rural communities, it can be very costly for doctors to set up and maintain private medical practices. It's one of the reasons that rural communities find it so hard to secure health professionals.

“The Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund will provide grants of up to $200,000 to help rural councils establish walk-in walk-out medical centres in small communities, which will make it easier for them to attract and retain a local doctor.

“Doctors will be able to walk in to clinics that have all the equipment they need, rather than having to set them up. They will then be able to focus on looking after their patients, rather than on the complexities of practice and financial management. Instead, they will pay a set management fee or work as an employee of the managing organisation.

“Local communities will benefit, too. They will not only gain access to medical services, but will have the security of knowing that the facilities, staff and medical records will not be affected when one practitioner leaves and another arrives.

“The Fund will also enable these clinics to be run on a primary health care team basis, which involves a general practitioner working closely with allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, dietitians and so on. This approach can improve patient care and reduce the professional isolation experienced by sole practitioners in small communities.

“The Fund will be delivered through the Regional Partnerships Programme, which will receive an extra $15.0 million over three years to meet its cost.”

The funding guidelines were developed after extensive consultation with the medical sector and local communities. Applicants must be able to demonstrate:

  • a clear need for improved medical services in the targeted community;
  • a clearly defined and sustainable practice management approach;
  • effective recruitment and retention strategies;
  • strong community support, including support from key medical stakeholders;
  • a significant contribution to the project from local partners; and
  • that the project will not impact negatively on the viability of existing medical practices.

Funding will be restricted to local councils, and will contribute to the infrastructure needed to establish practices in communities of less than 10,000 people. Funding will not be provided for operational expenses, practice management, or maintenance and repair. Residential housing cannot be funded, and retrospective funding will not be available.

Applications for funding will open on 1 July 2005.

The programme guidelines and application forms are available at www.regionalpartnerships.gov.au

Media contacts:
Ron Kelly Mr Cobb's Office 02 6277 4080 / 0417 862 924