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Supporting rural health care

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Overcoming the barriers and seizing the opportunities to provide more equitable health care for Australia’s rural population

Australia’s rural population, which comprises a third of our total population, presents distinct challenges for health care delivery. The low population density of much of rural Australia, the great distances involved, and the limited number of larger centres offering high-level medical care make equitable health care delivery difficult to achieve. Added to these difficulties is the overrepresentation of socioeconomic disadvantage and Indigenous people in rural and remote communities. The overall picture is that of a population with a heavier disease burden, more barriers to accessing appropriate care, and poorer outcomes from cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer than the metropolitan population.

The rural health workforce is ageing and, particularly in remote areas, remains heavily reliant on international medical graduates. There is also a significant maldistribution of the medical workforce, with the rural sector having only a third to half of the workforce of metropolitan areas, on a population basis. Surgical and medical specialists are most markedly underrepresented.1