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NSW health inquiry urges workforce review

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The NSW parliamentary inquiry into medical care in regional, rural and remote areas has found country people have significantly poorer health outcomes than those in the city, and has made 44 recommendations for change.

The inquiry sat across the state over the course of a year, with 15 public hearings and 720 written submissions.

The evidence revealed country hospitals often operate without a doctor, and with minimal nurses, and many rural towns cannot attract permanent GPs.

Witnesses told of patients dying on bathroom floors, hospital cooks and cleaners caring for patients in the absence of adequate medical staff, and patients travelling hours away from their homes to get basic care.

The inquiry’s report was tabled in parliament on Thursday morning, recommending NSW Health review funding models for rural health districts to identify gaps in care and services.

The committee also recommended the government speed up its review of the nursing and midwifery workforce, engage with communities about their health needs, and hold another inquiry in two years to monitor progress.

“Overall, the committee has found that residents of rural, regional and remote NSW have poorer health outcomes and inferior access to health and hospital services, and face significant financial challenges in accessing these services, compared to their metropolitan counterparts,” committee chair Greg Donnelly says in the report.

“This is a situation that can and should not be seen as acceptable.”

Journalists Jamelle Wells and Liz Hayes’ stories about the untimely deaths of their fathers within the rural health system helped trigger the inquiry.

They said the experience had been incredibly painful.

“The loss of our fathers, Allan Wells and Bryan Ryan, to a rural health system that we now know is deeply flawed is unforgivable,” the pair said in a statement.

“Sadly the hundreds of submissions show we were not alone.

“We can only hope the recommendations address fundamental issues that have prohibited proper regional health care for years and that the government acts to bring about real change. Anything less will be shameful.

“Country people deserve better. These are people’s lives. They matter.”

NSW Greens health spokesperson Cate Faehrmann, who was on the committee, said politics must be put aside to address the urgent problems revealed during the inquiry.

Ms Faehrmann urged the government to act on the report’s recommendation to establish an independent office of a health administration ombudsman due to the high volume of complaints.

Since the inquiry, the NSW government has appointed Bronnie Taylor as minister for regional health, set up a dedicated division within NSW Health, and announced funding for several rural hospitals.

A federal Senate inquiry heard similar evidence about extreme staff shortages in other states, and an interim report recommended the government substantially increase Medicare rebates and rethink models for prioritising areas in need.

– AAP