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Local government spending on primary healthcare will be the focus of a new advocacy push for Rural Health West and the Western Australian Local Government Authority (WALGA).

Under the partnership, a comprehensive survey has been distributed to 139 local government authorities.

The study will provide a detailed understanding of the financial and resource commitments that local governments feel compelled to make to ensure their communities receive basic primary healthcare.

Rural Health West Chief Executive Officer Tim Shackleton emphasised the need to address the increasing financial and resource burden that local government authorities are facing.

“This situation has been normalised over time, however it is unreasonable for local councils and ratepayers to bear this financial impost without proper support or compensation,” Tim said.

“Australia has a universal healthcare system built on the principle of equity, with responsibility primarily lying with federal and state governments.

“However, it appears that support for local government has fallen through the cracks, leaving councils to fend for themselves.

“The increasing costs associated with this responsibility makes the situation unsustainable.”

The research underscores the interplay between local, state, and federal governments in delivering public health services in Western Australia.

While local government plays a vital role in public health and wellbeing, providing social infrastructure, public services, and environmental health services, it is apparent that the burden of funding primary healthcare services has also fallen on their shoulders.

WALGA Chief Executive Officer Nick Sloan said that improving access to regional, rural and remote primary healthcare services was a strategic priority for WALGA.

“A lack of access to healthcare services is impacting many regional, rural and remote local governments and their communities across WA. In many cases local governments are stepping in to financially support healthcare services for their communities. This survey will provide further understanding around the extent and cost of this support and provide a powerful evidence-base for ongoing advocacy to improve regional health services,” Nick said.

The survey will assess the current contributions made by local councils and determine their future intentions in supporting general practice and other primary healthcare services. This evaluation will include direct financial contributions such as GP wages, as well as in-kind support like motor vehicles, housing, and other incentives.

This data, combined with Rural Health West’s experience in rural workforce planning and WALGA’s policy expertise, will be used to inform potential solutions to present to both the federal and state governments later this year.

Rural Health West has a strong history of collaborating with local government authorities in recruiting doctors and developing sustainable private practice business models.

However, there is increasing concern about the critical state of the current approach, particularly for smaller local councils committed to supporting general practice.

Across country WA, many local governments are directly procuring the services of doctors and nurses for their communities. Those who do not provide direct wages often offer financial incentives or facilities to support healthcare professionals.

Despite this investment, gaps in service delivery and levels of service remain a concern, particularly in smaller towns and more remote communities.

“There is significant work to be done to ensure adequate health service coverage in local communities,” Tim said.

“The collaboration between Rural Health West and WALGA aims to address these challenges and find sustainable solutions that meet the healthcare needs for many rural West Australians.”

Acknowledgement of Country