NSW Labor has initiated a welcome parliamentary inquiry into the state of rural and regional healthcare.
The inquiry announcement follows more media reports of under-resourcing, lack of doctors and systemic failures in NSW regional hospitals.
On Sunday's 60 Minutes, Liz Hayes did a moving story on the tragic death of her father who was never given the vital anti-stroke medication he took for a heart condition during his eight-day stay in a mid-North Coast private hospital.
There were also reports that thousands of test results were never followed up at a Dubbo Hospital last year. A doctor who worked at the hospital alleges these led to the prescription of wrong medications, missed broken bones and the death of a baby.
Last year, ABC's Four Corners shared the stories of patients who had died or suffered significant disability as a result of the care they received at their regional hospital. These injuries - and deaths - were preventable.
As a regional NSW-based health lawyer, I see too many of these stories - and countless reports - which show the need for government action to correct disproportionate funding and health outcomes for people in regional NSW.
There are too many negligence cases and inquests involving avoidable death and serious injury.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows that the rate of potentially avoidable death increases from 94 per 100,000 people in the major cities to 129 in regional areas.
People living in rural and remote areas have higher rates of hospitalisations, disease, mortality, injury and poorer access to, and use of, health services, compared with those living in metropolitan areas. The reality for many is travelling considerable distances to access medical treatment.
Liz Hayes was shocked to learn that the private hospital had just one doctor with a doctor on call after hours. This won't surprise those of us who live in regional NSW where there are few doctors and fewer specialists.
Governments - state and federal - need a properly funded, data based strategy to improve rural healthcare.
There needs to be more public data to monitor performance. The National Health Performance Authority still refuses to release national data on death rates and adverse events in hospitals.
In the US and England, this information is publicly available - by postcode.
Lawyers and journalists play a crucial role in exposing systemic problems in healthcare but it is up to governments to act to prevent unnecessary deaths.
If we have to have an inquiry to get action, bring it on.
Catherine Henry is a health lawyer, advocate for healthcare reform, and principal of Hunter-based firm, Catherine Henry Lawyers
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
IN NEWS AND SPORT:
- Newcastle court sentences Gateshead photographer Allan Todd Cameron to a maximum of 12 years over Lake Macquarie model assaults
- Knights coach Adam O'Brien explains why the time is right to blood Tex Hoy in the halves
- NSW-Victoria border restrictions changing, 10 new COVID-19 cases recorded in state
- A-League: Jets against standing down players despite wage deal talks breaking down
- Crown Solicitor's Office pushes for extended supervision order after violent sex offender Craig Hunter Paton released from jail
- Knights draw up coaching hit-list as assistant David Furner tells the players he's leaving