Rural and Regional Health

Legislative Assembly Hansard - 11 May 2022

Mr RYAN PARK (Keira) (16:54): Last week the parliamentary inquiry into rural and regional health handed down a damning report revealing a crisis in health care and how the Government has failed residents over the past decade. The landmark inquiry was established by the Labor Opposition, and I am proud to have fought for it alongside my upper House colleagues the Hon. Greg Donnelly, who was the chair of the inquiry, and the Hon. Walt Secord, to make sure that we shine a light on rural and regional health for those living in remote parts of New South Wales. The committee received more than 700 submissions—a phenomenal amount—and travelled the length and breadth of New South Wales to hear stories from residents, health professionals, community groups and peak bodies.

The committee held 15 public hearings between March 2021 and February 2022. Five were held at Parliament House in Sydney. Three were held virtually, due to the pandemic. Seven were held in regional areas: Deniliquin, Cobar, Wellington, Dubbo, Gunnedah, Taree and Lismore. I was delighted to attend many of those hearings. The damning report put forward 22 findings and 44 recommendations, and made one thing very clear: Health care in rural and regional New South Wales is in crisis. The inquiry found that those living outside metropolitan areas have poorer health outcomes compared with those living in metropolitan areas. The Liberals and The Nationals have reduced rural and regional healthcare capacity, and this has left our hospitals dangerously exposed to future pandemics.

Residents living in the bush often tell stories about waiting over a year before they can access vital surgery, and they wait for hours in the emergency department for basic treatment that many people in our cities could receive at their local GP. At every hearing there was undeniable evidence from witnesses signifying that we have a crisis in health care right across rural and regional New South Wales. We have heard that many hospitals have no doctors. At times, rural hospitals do not have basic medical supplies such as antibiotics. Kitchen staff and cleaners have been left to look after patients and newborn babies. Operating theatres are closed more often than they are open. People living in remote areas of New South Wales often need to travel long distances or relocate to attend health services or receive specialised treatment.

Someone's postcode should not determine the level of health care and access to health care they receive. The New South Wales Government must make improving the availability, funding and delivery of health and hospital services and resources a top priority. The Labor Opposition is committed to making sure the recommendations are implemented in full. I can assure the House that if Labor is elected in March next year and I am made health Minister, I will report back to this Parliament every single session to ensure that at least twice a year this place—the people's House, which is meant to represent communities right across regional and rural New South Wales—is given feedback on the progression of the implementation of this report. The report carries with it the expectation and hope that we as political leaders make sure that we prioritise safe hospitals, better health services, and adequate and improved health services for communities living in rural and regional New South Wales.

This was an inquiry that the Government fought hard to stop, but finally the voices of rural and regional communities have been heard. The report recommends a two‑year period for the Government to outline its progress, but NSW Labor believes it can do more and that the emphasis should be on starting this process immediately. Given the extensive feedback from the community and those working in the health sector, the Government needs to take these findings and recommendations seriously, and develop a plan to ensure that the recommendations are a top priority. I have written to the regional health Minister to outline exactly that and to very clearly express my belief that there should be a plan in place, with resources to make sure that the recommendations are delivered.

I want the inquiry to steer improvements, provide clear recommendations and implement change. These communities deserve more and expect more. We must fight for these people, and we will. Finally, I thank all those who have contributed to this landmark inquiry by sharing their stories bravely and, at times, in very difficult circumstances. I also thank the Hon. Greg Donnelly and the Hon. Walt Secord for their tireless work as Labor's representatives on the committee. I look forward to joining Mrs Helen Dalton, the member for Murray, on Friday night to discuss this issue in her community. I thank her for her ongoing contribution to this important issue.