National Rural Health Commissioner report on allied health released

Published 22 June 2020, revised 7 September 2020

AHPA is pleased to announce that the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner’s report to the federal government on ‘Improvement of Access, Quality and Distribution of Allied Health Services in Regional, Rural and Remote Australia’ has now been published and is publicly available. This report was submitted to the Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, Mark Coulton MP outlining a national strategy for improving access to healthcare for Australians outside metropolitan locations.

The report outlines a number of recommendations that have the potential to significantly increase access to allied health services and support a sustainable rural allied health workforce. AHPA worked closely with the Commissioner, Professor Paul Worley, in his development of the report, providing evidence and advice on a range of issues affecting the rural and remote allied health workforce. We welcome Professor Worley’s report and acknowledge the extensive work undertaken by the Commissioner and his team. We also note that while the focus of these recommendations is the rural workforce, many of the issues and recommendations outlined in the report apply more broadly than just in relation to rural and remote areas. We look forward to supporting the incoming National Rural Health Commissioner in implementing these recommendations.

Please see below for a summary of the Commissioner’s recommendations. We encourage you to visit the Department of Health website for access to the full report.

Recommendation 1 – Improving Access
To improve access to allied health services, it is recommended that the Commonwealth progressively establish, initially through a series of demonstration trial sites, ‘Service and Learning Consortia’ across rural and remote Australia. With the support of new and existing program funding, Service and Learning Consortia will integrate rural and remote ‘grow your own’ health training systems with networked rural and remote health service systems. Service and Learning Consortia will consist of local private, public and not for profit service providers, training providers, and community representatives collaborating across multi-town and multi-sector networks, according to community need. Once established, Service and Learning Consortia will improve recruitment and retention of allied health professionals by making rural and remote allied health practice and training more attractive and better supported.

Recommendation 2 – Enhancing Quality
To enhance the quality of allied health services in rural and remote Australia, it is recommended that the Commonwealth invest in strategies to increase the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the allied health workforce. Two strategies recommended are: further expansion of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Academy model to all Australian jurisdictions; and the creation of a Leaders in Indigenous Allied Health Training and Education Network. Once established, these strategies will increase pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enter the allied health workforce and will improve the cultural safety of rural and remote allied health services and training for all Australians.

Recommendation 3 – Expanding Distribution
To expand the distribution of the allied health workforce across rural and remote Australia, it is recommended that, building on current national and jurisdictional initiatives, the Commonwealth develops a National Allied Health Data Strategy. This Strategy will include building a geospatial Allied Health Minimum Dataset that incorporates comprehensive rural and remote allied health workforce data. Once established, this data strategy and minimum dataset will inform and improve the design and development of rural and remote allied health workforce planning and policy.

Recommendation 4 – National Leadership
It is recommended that the Commonwealth appoint a dedicated full-time Chief Allied Health Officer (CAHO) to work across sectors and departments including health, mental health, disability, aged care, early childhood, education and training, justice, and social services. The CAHO will work with relevant peak bodies and consumer advisory groups to ensure equity of access to high quality allied health services for all rural and remote communities. Once established, the CAHO will provide valuable allied health input and leadership into Commonwealth government policy.

The Minister recently announced that the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner, established in 2017, would be extended. Professor Worley’s term was extended in 2019 and ends this month. AHPA looks forward to working with the Minister and the new Commissioner on implementing the recommendations in the report.