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Senate backs HECS for rural relocation

A Senate inquiry into Australia’s rural health workforce has supported a recommendation for the government to extend HECS relief to nurses relocating to rural areas.

The final committee report said the current HECS reimbursement scheme was inequitable and should be urgently expanded to include nurses and allied health professionals.

In June, the federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, said she would investigate a possible expansion of the scheme following lobbying by the National Rural Health Students’ Network.

Last year the federal government spent $7 million on the scheme attracting 530 doctors to work in rural communities. The scheme is currently only available to medical graduates.

The report said most of the existing support mechanisms available to medical specialists should also be available to allied health professionals and nurses.

The committee acknowledged a large disparity between the support provided to allied health professionals and that provided to doctors to work in non-metropolitan areas. The committee said this situation neither promotes access to quality healthcare nor promotes team-based patient care.

The report released late last month also recommended the creation of a dedicated rural and regional allied health adviser role, similar to the office of the chief nurse. The office within the Department of Health and Ageing would provide a strong voice within government on all issues relating to Australia’s rural health workforce.

Also among the committee’s 18 recommendations were the collection of better data on rural health and a co-ordinated strategy of accommodation for rural health professionals.

Linda Belardi

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