NSW health inquiry urges workforce review

·3-min read

Country people have significantly poorer health outcomes than those living in the city, a NSW parliamentary inquiry has found.

The upper house report into medical care in regional, rural and remote NSW has made 44 recommendations.

The inquiry, which received 720 submissions and held 15 hearings, revealed country hospitals often operate without a doctor, with minimal nurses, and many rural towns cannot attract permanent GPs.

Witnesses told of emergency departments with no doctors, patients dying on bathroom floors, hospital cooks and cleaners caring for patients in the absence of adequate medical staff, and patients travelling hours from their homes to get basic care.

Labor committee chair Greg Donnelly said some people reported "excessive wait times for treatment and ... misdiagnoses and medical errors".

The report was tabled in parliament on Thursday and recommends 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," Mr Donnelly said.

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

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.

Premier Dominic Perrottet says many of the issues raised during the inquiry have already been addressed and spending on rural health is at record highs.

"It's a challenge getting nurses and GPs out to regional NSW and regional Australia", he told reporters.

"This is a difficulty that we have to address.

"Right across the board we've seen record investments, but we could always do better."

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

"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 spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann, who was on the committee, urged the government to act on the report's recommendation to establish an independent office of a health administration ombudsman.

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.

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