Scarcity in rural health professionals

Doctor. Contributed

ACCESS to dentists, psychologists and GPs in small towns has barely improved in 30 years, a new analysis has found.

Number crunching from the Regional Australia Institute has found just five per cent of small towns have access to a dentist, down from nine per cent in 1981.

The number of GPs and psychologists have increased slightly over the same period, but are still low at 18 and six per cent respectively. Small towns are 10-12 times more likely to have a nurse in their community than a GP, with the percentage of nurses at 78 per cent.

The figures are highlighted in the RAI Pillars of Communities report, released last week, which tracked trends in 1555 small towns - those with populations below 5000 - using Census data from 1981 to 2011.

RAI chief executive Jack Archer said while some progress had been made, government spending still "isn't reaching the areas that need it most”.

"It should be no surprise that many small towns are overwhelmed by significant dental, mental health and educational achievement issues,” Mr Archer said.

"For many of the 1.8million Australians who live in small towns, accessing a GP, dentist, or psychologist is nearly impossible.”

The report shows access to preschool teachers is also lacking, with a decrease from 25 per cent in 1981 to 16 per cent in 2011.

The number of primary school teachers is at 74 per cent and secondary teachers, 63 per cent.

Mr Archer said the lack of preschool teachers coincided with higher rates of early childhood development issues in rural and remote areas.

The number of police officers has also dropped, from 55 to 46 per cent.

Topics:  regional australia institute rural health

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