Rural Health Workforce Strategy

South Australia faces many challenges in recruiting, training and developing the health professionals and skilled volunteers needed to deliver public health services in rural areas.

The Government of South Australia has provided an investment of $20 million over four years, from 2018-19 to 2021-22, to develop and implement a Rural Health Workforce Strategy to address these challenges.

The Rural Health Workforce Strategy Steering Committee, chaired by Rural Support Service Chief Clinical Adviser Dr Hendrika Meyer, and comprising representatives from the following stakeholder groups, along with regional local health network (LHN) and Rural Support Service members, Riverland Mallee Coorong LHN Governing Board Chair Dr Peter Joyner, and National Rural Health Commissioner Professor Paul Worley, is providing high-level oversight and governance of the strategy:

  • Aboriginal Health Council of SA
  • Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine
  • Australian Medical Association (South Australia)
  • Country SA Primary Health Network
  • District Council of Kimba
  • Flinders University
  • GPEx
  • Health Consumers Alliance of South Australia
  • Rural Doctors Association of South Australia
  • Rural Doctors Workforce Agency
  • Rural Faculty of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
  • SA Ambulance Service
  • University of Adelaide
  • University of South Australia

In January 2019, based on recommendations from the Steering Committee, the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Hon. Stephen Wade MLC, announced the following initial funding allocations under the Rural Health Workforce Strategy for 2018-19:

  • $840,000 for an expanded Digital Telehealth Network (DTN)
  • $200,000 for simulation and training equipment
  • $180,000 for mental health education for suicide prevention and patient management
  • $370,000 to improve services for long-term, high-quality maternity care
  • $260,000 for further specialised training for allied health professionals (refer to Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway)
  • $140,000 to provide additional training and career opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners

The investment in the DTN led to the roll-out of rural DTN units in the emergency departments of all country public hospitals in South Australia, with the equipment installed in the final site, Murray Bridge, on 3 December 2019. All of these sites now have access to high-quality specialist advice using the DTN, including the 24/7 Country Stroke Support Service and MedSTAR emergency medical retrieval service, and 30 of them have access to after-hours GP support through SAVES.

The allocation of the following additional funding for 2018-19 was approved by the Minister in March 2019, based on recommendations from the Rural Health Workforce Strategy Steering Committee:

  • $107,360 for expanding training opportunities for community support workers that will assist with attracting, recruiting and retaining quality staff
  • $80,000 for supporting the rural community nursing workforce, allowing them to manage more complex clients in rural areas
  • $74,867 for registered nurse/registered midwife collaborative graduate programs
  • $35,392 for rural dental workshops with a facilitated introduction to the benefits of a rural career for dental professionals
  • $21,000 to expand the skills of the allied health workforce to improve the care for older people in rural South Australia

In addition, $290,000 was allocated for a project team in the then Country Health SA to support the development and implementation of the strategy, including a broad plan for country health services as well as plans for each component of the rural health workforce. This project team is now part of the Rural Support Service.

In addition to these important investments, the initial priority for the Rural Health Workforce Strategy Steering Committee and project team was the development of a Rural Medical Workforce Plan, which was released by the Minister in December 2019.

During 2019-20 further funding allocations have continued to support the following initiatives that commenced in 2018-19:

  • $825,750 for to improve services for long-term, high-quality maternity care
  • $400,300 for registered nurse/registered midwife collaborative graduate programs
  • $86,366 for further specialised training for allied health professionals (refer to Allied
    Health Rural Generalist Pathway)
  • $30,548 to provide additional training and career opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners
  • $150,000 for research into reasons for reduced numbers of rural general practice trainees, through the Medical Speciality Decision Making Project, with the final report released in March this year (refer to Rural Medical Workforce Plan)
  • $320,000 for project support to continue the development of the workforce plans.

Funding was also allocated to the following new projects in 2019-20:

  • $71,500 for developing and commencing training in a Professional Certificate in Specialist Mental Health Nursing Practice
  • $32,100 for the Rural Intern GP Experience Program
  • $327,670 for a trial of ‘clinician kits’ on Eyre Peninsula that have been invaluable in assisting with domiciliary assessment for COVID-19
  • $121,180 for increased technological support in rural settings for the SA Ambulance Service
  • $65,000 for implementation of a tool to increase the competence and capability of support workers to identify and respond to clients with complex care needs at risk of decline
  • up to $138,067 for the regional local health networks to support the implementation of the Rural
    Medical Workforce Plan.

The Rural SA Ambulance Service Workforce Plan is currently being developed and is expected to be released by June 2020.

Corresponding plans for the nursing and midwifery, and allied health professional workforces will then be developed and released.

In future, the strategy will focus on the Aboriginal health workforce and on the volunteers that support rural health care.

Further information

For more information, please email Health.RuralHealthWorkforceStrategy@sa.gov.au