Rural fly-in fly-out health staff subject of Parliamentary inquiry

The chairman of the Far West Local Health District is calling for more training for rural health workers. Dr. Steve Flecknoe-Brown is planning to make a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the use of fly-in fly-out workers. He says he is concerned about the cost of flying health workers in to the region. Dr Flecknoe-Brown says the far west has a lot of fly-in-fly-out health workers, including staff to fill gaps in the system. He says training local staff is the best way to deal with a shortage of workers. "Not only training young doctors, but also training allied health professionals, have got to be supported and enhanced and backed up by training schemes for specialists and, for that matter, this category of people called rural generalists.

Rural health advocates have urged federal MPs to ensure the work of local health professionals is not undermined with the use of fly-in fly-out medical staff. Concerns about the provision of rural health services have been highlighted by the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) to the House of Representatives Regional Australia Committee's inquiry into fly-in fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in drive-out (DIDO) workers. NRHA told the committee policies and programs are needed to effectively balance the use of temporary staff and permanent workers in providing the best care possible to patients.

The NRHA emphasised in its submission to the inquiry that despite the potential for some problems, FIFO workers make a significant contribution to rural and remote health in areas of shortage and in some communities there is no other choice. But it said the design and operation of FIFO health services must provide support to healthcare workers already on the ground rather than contribute to the closure of existing health and aged care services.

The Australian Medical Association's Western Australia branch agrees. AMA WA president David Mountain told the inquiry there is a "noticeable dearth" of research and evidence into the full impact of FIFO practices on health, communities and small business. "Recent reports have shown significant health concerns around FIFO workers, ranging from diabetes, to obesity, mental health and heart issues, and it is important that any review involves this key area," Dr Mountain said.

In its submission to the inquiry the Royal Flying Doctor Service emphasised the importance of using FIFO staff to supplement local services. It also raised concerns about the impacts on its budget and ability to deliver services of increasing numbers of FIFO workers. Submissions and terms of reference are available from the Inquiry webpage.

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