In the aftermath of the floods, we can expect to hear plenty about the health needs of rural communities, especially around mental health.
No doubt this will lead, as usual, to a focus on the shortages of health professionals in many rural and remote areas.
Perhaps the floods crisis will create an opportunity for some enlightened discussions about the need for innovation and reform in the health workforce?
Better health care and service delivery rely on more than simply “more doctors and more nurses”, especially as it’s far from clear that the increased graduate numbers will translate into more doctors and nurses prepared to work in under-served areas.
But while we ponder our own shortfalls, perhaps we shouldn’t forget that the needs are oh-so-much-greater in so many other parts of the world, as an international conference will hear in Bangkok next week.
Tony Wells, Communications Manager at Rural Health Workforce, gives us a sneak preview of the conference.
How to keep health workers in rural areas?
Tony Wells writes:
Fair access to decent health care is a basic human right – but not everyone gets it. This will be the hot topic in Bangkok next week when the World Health Organization brings health experts together to see what can be done.
This is the second global forum on Human Resources for Health that has been run by WHO. The first one in 2008, resulted in the Kampala Declaration.
Check out The Guardian’s overview.
Rural Health Workforce Australia CEO Kim Webber will be one of Australia’s representatives at the conference, where she will be co-chairing a working session on how to keep health workers in rural areas. It’s an issue we’re very familiar with due to Australia’s well-publicised rural doctor shortages.
As you will see from The Guardian report, Australia is part of a global crisis that is a lot worse in other countries.
Dr Webber was Australia’s representative on the WHO panel which published the first international guidelines for retention of health professionals in rural and remote areas.
A range of measures were recommended including financial incentives, personal and professional support, and tailoring education to meet the needs of health professionals in rural areas.
As a result of Dr Webber’s input, the Australian experience has helped to inform WHO’s recommendations. The shortage of rural health workers is a global challenge, particularly in countries like China which are experiencing mass urbanisation.
Stay tuned for further updates from Bangkok.
In simple economic terms, demand is outstripping supply when it comes to doctors to patient ratios in most of Australia. One of the current solutions is regional and rural areas “borrowing” doctors from metropolitan centres as ‘locums’.
Employment of locum doctors is widely discouraged as a long-term sustainable solution. However, perhaps it is time for health planners to return to the policy drawing board to re-examine the realistic possibility that locum doctors area a realistic way to manage the needs of under-serviced areas of Australia.