The Royal Flying Doctor Service is set to expand its health services for Australians in rural and remote areas and establish a mental health outreach service with an $84 million boost in funding from the Federal Government.
In the lead up to its 90th anniversary in May, the iconic Australian healthcare provider announced it will also be able to extend dental care and emergency air services into some of the globe’s most inaccessible areas with the additional cash injection, which takes the government’s four-year commitment to $327 million.
The first Budget sweetener to be unveiled this year by the Coalition, the funding will provide services into areas where Commonwealth-funded activity doesn’t reach or remains limited.
Country Australians see doctors at only half the rate of people who live in the city, according to RFDS CEO Dr Martin Laverty, and the increased services are essential.
“We will be able to provide medical services right across remote Australia. We’ll be able to extend our dental services right across remote Australia and, for the first time, we’ll be able to operate a national mental health outreach program for those people who live and work in country Australia,” Laverty said.
People who live in the bush see mental health professionals at only one-fifth the rate of those who live in the city.
The funding will allow the charity voted Australia’s most trusted to employ up to 50 extra psychologists and mental health nurses to join the existing RFDS staffing complement of 1500.
The financial commitment will see RFDS dental outreach services extended beyond 2019, while the new Mental Health Outreach Clinic program will be launched at the beginning of next year. The increased contribution to standby arrangements for RFDS bases will support the organisation’s revered air ambulance services.
With a waiting room of 7.13 million square kilometres, RFDS has grown into the largest aeromedical organisation in the world, with a fleet of 66 aircraft, 23 airbases and 48 road patient vehicles. Digital health technologies have also dramatically extended the reach of the care it provides.
Of the 335,000 people cared for in the last year, the RFDS delivered:
17,094 primary health care clinics in different remote locations
88,541 telehealth and video-health doctor and nurse consultations
10,832 episodes of dental care
36,799 air retrievals of patients
70,576 road transfers of patients.
The funding commitment has been welcomed by the County Women’s Association of Australia, the National Farmers Federation and the National Rural Health Alliance.
An RFDS survey last year found that 15.6 per cent of respondents had waited at least two days for urgent medical care, while 2.9 per cent were required to wait six days or more.
With the premature death rate 1.6 times higher in remote Australia than in major cities, those survey called for government policies and expenditure to be directed towards expanding access to general medical services (13.1 per cent), specialists (10.6 per cent), GPs (4.6 per cent), hospitals (2.3 per cent), diagnostic tests (1.4 per cent), and allied health services (0.5 per cent).