Bush’s health battles outlined

A parliamentary inquiry will next month begin hearings investigating the state of healthcare in rural and regional New South Wales.

A parliamentary inquiry into regional and rural healthcare has received over 700 submissions, highlighting issues such as chronic doctor shortages, a lack of resources and a system that is overstretched.

The revelations have prompted calls from Deputy Premier John Barilaro for an investigation into the matter by NSW Health, however NSW Labor say the healthcare crisis in regional and rural NSW is “far too serious” for the Government to investigate itself.

The submissions have already revealed harrowing stories, such as a hospital requesting patients bring their own bandages and doctors allegedly trying to mend broken bones over videolink.

Wee Waa Chamber of Commerce wrote that a lack of healthcare is “literally killing the town”, and Gunnedah Shire Council said doctors are so overstretched they are essentially “running a crisis medical service.”

Shadow Minister for Health, Ryan Park, said he would be referring the allegations to the Independent Health Care Complaints Commission.

“We have seen shocking revelations come to light through the Parliamentary Inquiry. Towns without doctors, hospitals without bandages and people without the care they need,” Mr Park said. 

“This is why we fought for an inquiry. We need an independent, impartial investigation to get to the heart of the broken public health system in rural and regional NSW.”

A submission by Can Assist, a cancer assistance network with branches in Tumut and Tumbarumba, said a lack of radiotherapy services across NSW is a key area of concern – being the issue that originally prompted the formation of their charity in 1955.

“Whilst circumstances have certainly improved since those early days, more sites need to be built,” the submission reads.

“The length of time to administer radiotherapy (often 5-6 weeks) plus the fact that it is delivered as an outpatient makes it uniquely expensive for residents that do not live close to services.”

Can Assist says that branches such as Moree, Nyngan and Bega spend more than 70 per cent of their client assistance dollars on travel and accommodation, with patients travelling between 450 and 600kms return to access services.

“Other branches like Armidale and Tumut that are much closer to radiotherapy services (around 220km return to Tamworth and Wagga Wagga respectively) still spend between 60-70 per cent of their assistance dollars on travel and accommodation,” the submission continues.

Can Assist explained that even for people living in towns with major cancer centres, travel remains a necessity in many cases – and entry as a public patient is not guaranteed.

“In Wagga for example, many patients are forced into the private system – if your cancer gives rise to Lymphatic problems for example, there is only one doctor and she is in the private system,” it reads.

A submission by the Riverina Murray Regional Alliance (RMRA), which incorporates the communities of Tumut and Wagga Wagga among others, said it was founded in 2015 in response to the reduction of government services in the area.

RMRA held a Healing Forum in 2017 which identified intergenerational trauma as a key issue, with one impact of this being drug and alcohol addiction and its effect on local communities, such as poor physical and mental health, family violence and poor education outcomes.

“A need was identified for services to be provided by Aboriginal people to Aboriginal people, to ensure that our communities are connected to them,” the submission reads. 

“This includes the involvement in Aboriginal people in the design and delivery of services they received.”

The parliamentary inquiry is due to begin public hearings from March 19, with several expected to be held in regional and rural NSW.