Rural communities will suffer from the closure of the Rural Health Education Foundation (RHEF), according to key rural health bodies, including the National Rural Health Alliance. The RHEF announced that it is to close its doors after 22 years of operations, due to a decline in government-contracted work.
“We are reluctant and very sad to make this difficult decision but it is the responsible one for the business as the reduction in government work means the Foundation is no longer financially viable” said Foundation’s Board Chair Dr David Rosenthal. “Government contracts are fundamental to the Foundation being able to deliver a regular stream of educational programming to those who use our service, which in turn enables us to attract independent contributors and funding. At the same time, our enforced move to the digital platform with its associated infrastructure liabilities was effectively a double blow to our financial position.”
Whilst technology and the internet have greatly improved access to health education and information for many, this is not always the case for those in remote and rural areas.
“Healthcare practitioners tell us that accessing education remains difficult and costly for them and that closing the Foundation and the Channel will leave a gap, but we have no choice” said Ms Helen Craig, the Foundation’s CEO.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have worked with us over the years for their incredible and generous support. We are very proud of the legacy we leave and wish all those living and working in remote and rural Australia all the very best.
What is of prime importance is that health education continues to be relevant, sufficient and easily accessible to all – far and wide. This is crucial to retaining health professionals in areas of workforce shortage, and we know reduces their professional and personal isolation. We hope that this and all future governments support this as a key priority, to ensure that those living in our more distant corners are not disadvantaged and that country people get as good a quality health service as that enjoyed by those living in the cities.
The Foundation is currently working through the closure process by way of a member’s voluntary liquidation, with RSM Bird Cameron appointed as liquidators. It is in discussions with its suppliers and those who have contracts with the organisation and surplus funds will be provided to a like-minded association that has already been decided. Ms Craig said that “We expect this process to take a few weeks, as we ensure that all our obligations are met, that our staff are supported during this difficult time, and that our programs currently being broadcast on the Rural Health Channel can remain as accessible as possible.”
Established in 1995, the Rural Health Education Foundation is an independent, non-profit organisation that has played a critical role in redressing the health inequality between the city and bush by providing quality, accessible health education to those living and working in remote and rural Australia.
Since the start, the Foundation has delivered its services nationally via free-to-air satellite television, together with online services and DVD dissemination; overcoming the barriers for those living and working in remote and rural Australia where access to technology is limited and travel involves significant distance, time and expense.
In the last 10 years the Foundation has produced over 300 health education programs, covering topics ranging from autism to cancer, dementia to adolescent self-harm, immunisation to telehealth
Each year, between 15,000 and 18,000 DVDs of Foundation programs are distributed upon request across Australia.
Rural health experts and stakeholders expressed their disappointment at the announcement.
Our Wellbeing WA tweeted ‘Health education must remain accessible to all’
This was echoed by the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council which wrote “health education in the media for remote communities 10 steps back”
Gordon Gregory, Executive Director of the National Rural Health Alliance, said that the closure reflected the declining government support over the past few years. He expressed concern at the impact it would have on rural and remote communities, asking “what will it take for politicians to recognise and genuinely address the health needs of consumers in rural and remote areas?.” He pledged the support of the NRHA to filling the gaps left by the RHEF as far as possible.