New Rural Health Commissioner appointed
Associate Professor Ruth Stewart has been appointed as the new National Rural Health Commissioner (RHC).
Announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt and Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton, Associate Professor Stewart succeeds the first RHC, Professor Paul Worley, whose term expired on 30 June.
The RHC works with regional, rural and remote communities, the health sector, universities and specialist training colleges, and across all levels of government, to improve rural health policies and champion the cause of rural practice. The government has extended the role of the RHC to have a broader focus and announced that two additional Deputy Commissioners will be appointed to look after allied health, nursing and Indigenous health.
Associate Professor Stewart’s appointment has been welcomed by the Australian Rural Health Education Network (ARHEN), which represents 16 University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH) located in rural and remote areas in all states and the NT. UDRHs focus on addressing health workforce shortages, which affect about 7 million people who live and work in these locations. Each UDRH supports nursing and allied health students to undertake clinical training in these locations so they experience the many opportunities that exist outside capital cities.
“We look forward to continuing the vital work started by Professor Worley by working closely with Associate Professor Stewart and her Deputy Commissioners in their new roles,” ARHEN Chair Professor Lisa Bourke said.
“It is clear Associate Professor Stewart — most recently Associate Professor of Rural Medicine, Director of Rural Clinical Training and Support at James Cook University in Queensland — brings a wealth of valuable experience in rural and remote practice to the role.
“I’m confident she will understand the vital importance of continuing to address disparities in access to allied health professionals for people in the bush who so often have to either travel large distances or go without the health care that those in big cities take for granted,” Professor Bourke said.
“Working collaboratively with the Office of the RHC, Australia’s UDRHs have the people, capacity and expertise to be critical partners in addressing these health workforce maldistribution issues into the future.”
ARHEN will seek a meeting with Associate Professor Stewart as soon as possible to discuss her new role, including recommendations arising from a report into improving the access, quality and distribution of allied health care in rural and remote Australia presented by Professor Worley shortly before his departure.
“We also look forward to discussing the work of the new RHC and the recent allied health report with Minister Coulton when he attends the ARHEN regional board meeting in Tamworth in September,” Professor Bourke said.
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