NSW health system failing rural and regional residents, report finds

People in rural New South Wales have “significantly poorer health outcomes” due to a system that is “failing” them, according to a scathing report handed to the state government on Thursday.

The report included 44 recommendations to fix the healthcare system in rural, regional and remote areas which it found was “in crisis”.

Its tabling in parliament follows a year-long inquiry that received more than 700 submissions and held 15 hearings, where doctors, patients, nurses and administrators outlined the extreme challenges faced in their communities.

Recommendations include ways to address inferior access to services and disadvantage in Indigenous communities.

Among 22 findings of the inquiry were the significant financial challenges for regional patients compared with people in cities and that issues were exacerbated by a “culture of fear” within the health department.

The report also found significant under-resourcing, and said the funding divide between the state and commonwealth governments had “led to both duplication and gaps in service delivery”.

The committee concluded there has been a “historic failure” by both levels of government to support and retain health professionals especially doctors and nurses in rural, regional and remote areas.

The disadvantage and discrimination experienced in Indigenous communities were also highlighted in the report.

“It is unacceptable that some First Nations people still experience discrimination when seeking medical assistance in some rural, regional and remote hospitals in NSW,” the report said.

“Telehealth has created another barrier for First Nations people in terms of accessing culturally appropriate health services.”

Among the extensive recommendations was a funding model review, greater engagement with local community groups and more funding for regional nurse practitioners.

The report also recommended the state and commonwealth governments work together on a 10-year workforce strategy and for a second inquiry to be held in two years to check on the state’s progress.

The inquiry heard stories of people travelling long distances to receive care, hospitals operating without doctors and the difficulty of recruiting GPs into regional areas.

Nurses recounted horror stories including patients dying on bathroom floors, families with loved ones in palliative care being forced to administer intravenous painkillers themselves, and cleaners and cooks performing nursing duties.

In February, NSW Health officials apologised to people who had been let down by medical services in regional and remote parts of the state.

“We acknowledge there has been evidence to the inquiry of regrettable patient experiences and outcomes,” department deputy secretary, Nigel Lyons, told a hearing of the inquiry.

“To these people and their families, we sincerely apologise for experiences that did not meet the highest standards of healthcare that we expect in this state.

“On behalf of NSW Health we reiterate our commitment to continual improvement and to ensure that all patients in the future receive the high-quality care expected and deserved.”

The NSW government has six months to respond to the report.

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