Australia’s rural health commissioner believes Bendigo and other regional areas can help create a complex teaching hospital network

RURAL HEALTH: Rural health commissioner Paul Worley (left) chats with Bendigo Health CEO Peter Faulkner in a hospital simulation room.
RURAL HEALTH: Rural health commissioner Paul Worley (left) chats with Bendigo Health CEO Peter Faulkner in a hospital simulation room.

Australia’s first rural health commissioner aims to create a complex teaching hospital network across the country, linking remote communities with metropolitan centres.

Visiting Bendigo on Monday, distinguished rural doctor Emeritus Professor Paul Worley, said the transition of knowledge and services from more to less populated areas needed to improve.

Professor Worley, announced as commissioner in October by Federal Assistant Minister for Health David Gillespie, said rural Australia deserved equal access to health services. 

“My role is to look at access to health care being a right for all people who live in rural and remote Australia,” he said.

Bendigo Hospital hopes to become a regional training centre for specialist doctors. Rheumatology, neurology, neurosurgery and ear nose and throat specialists were lacking locally, according to Bendigo Health chief medical officer Dr Humsha Naidoo.

Bendigo Hospital hopes to become a regional training centre for specialist doctors. Rheumatology, neurology, neurosurgery and ear nose and throat specialists were lacking locally, according to Bendigo Health chief medical officer Dr Humsha Naidoo.

Specialty training in regional areas like Bendigo was important, he said, as was training ‘rural generalist’ doctors – medical professionals that could perform a number of roles like a being a GP, specialist doctor and emergency doctor for the one small community.

“It’s a unique type of doctor that links between primary, secondary and tertiary care,” he said.

At least 350 rural generalists needed training each year to satisfy the demands of regional and remote Australia, Professor Worley said.

“We need rosters of doctors that are big enough to make sustainable practice. We can’t always be one doctor away from a crisis, rural communities don’t deserve that,” he said.

Bendigo had the ‘tools’ available to provide specialist training for junior doctors, many of whom left the region headed for the big cities to further their education, Professor Worley said.

Bendigo Health chief medical officer Dr Humsha Naidoo said traditionally specialist training was held in metropolitan areas, which she hoped would change.

“We want to prevent them (Bendigonians) going down the freeway for treatment. We want to have sufficient training so we can provide a wide diverse range of services,” he said.

Rheumatology, neurology, neurosurgery and ear nose and throat specialists were lacking locally, Dr Naidoo said.