Best for the Bush Rural and Remote Health Baseline 2023

Primary care access vital for better health outcomes in remote Australia

Date published

27 Mar 2024

The second annual Royal Flying Doctor Service ‘Best for the Bush, Rural and Remote Health Base Line' report was released today. Presenting the latest data on the health of rural and remote Australians and evidence on service gaps, the report identifies the issues that most urgently need attention from service providers, funders, partners and policy makers.

Infographic 1

Poorer Health Outcomes

This report again demonstrates significantly poorer health outcomes and more limited access to primary health services in rural and remote Australia.  

This results in people from these areas getting sicker and requiring more urgent attention. As compared with those in major cities, the report details that rural and remote residents are;

  • 2.9x more likely to be hospitalized
  • 2.8x more likely to be hospitalized for reasons that are potentially preventable
  • 2.7x more likely to die from potentially avoidable causes

    Infographic 2

    High post-COVID demands

    An analysis of RFDS emergency aeromedical retrievals shows a 9% increase in the last (financial) year, transporting people from rural and remote areas to larger, metropolitan centres for urgent hospital care. 

    The most common reason for retrievals remains heart, stroke and vascular disease.

    Infographic 7

    Leading causes of death and illness are preventable

    The leading causes for death in Australia, by remoteness are heart disease (1.9x higher than in major cities), and Diabetes (2nd leading cause of death in remote areas, while only seventh in major cities).  

    People living in remote areas are 1.4X more likely to die from lung cancer and in very remote areas, 1.6X more likely. Heart disease and diabetes can be prevented through effective primary healthcare. Lung cancer and other cancers can be detected (and then treated) through screening services. 

        Infographic 6

        Unless more comprehensive primary healthcare services are expanded into rural and remote areas, people in these communities will continue to experience higher levels of illness, avoidable hospitalisation, and earlier death.

        Compared to those in major cities -

        • Females in very remote areas are likely to die 16 years earlier;
        • Males in very remote areas are likely to die 13 years earlier; and
        • Males and females have a mortality rate 1.6 times as high;
        Indigenous stats

        Indigenous health

        Almost 60% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians live in rural or remote Areas of Australia and there is not only a gap in life expectancy between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians of up to 12.5 years that increases with increasing remoteness, but there is a further gap amongst Indigenous people depending on where they live:

        • Life expectancy for Indigenous males living in remote and very remote areas was 5.2 years lower than that of Indigenous males living in major cities (67.3 years compared with 72.5 years).
        • The equivalent comparison for Indigenous females was 4.2 years lower (71.3 years compared with 76.5 years).
        • 26.9% of retrieval patients were Indigenous, reflecting the high proportion of Indigenous Australians living in rural and remote areas.
        GP Clinic

        The Royal Flying Doctor Service

        In 2022-23, the Royal Flying Doctor Service conducted 36,937 aeromedical retrievals, equivalent to 101 aeromedical retrievals per day, or four per hour. 

        There were 137,995 RFDS face-to-face primary health consultations conducted, 28,889 primary health clinics held, 19,946 mental health consultations and 10,881 dental health consultations conducted.

        Mental Health Consultation Tasmania

        The National Rural Health Alliance recently released a report detailing the comparative Government health spend between major city residents and rural and remote Australia. 

        This shows a gap of $6.55 billion, which is a health spend shortfall of $848 per person in rural and remote Australia. 

        Given the challenges, those that live in rural and remote Australia should be seeing a greater investment in health service expenditure and not struggling to have a parity with those in our major cities.

        “Our postcode should be what determines access to health services”, says Frank Quinlan, Federation Executive Director of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. 

        “All Australians should expect reasonable access to primary healthcare services no matter where they live. 

        For Australians living in rural, remote and regional Australia, access simple services such as a nurse-led clinic, a GP, a dentist or a specialist is so much harder.”

        “Working alongside government, service partners and communities, this Best for the Bush report is continuation of the RFDS’ 100-year commitment to delivering evidence-based healthcare in regional, rural and remote Australia”, said RFDS Federation Executive Director Frank Quinlan. 

        “This will only be achieved through accessible primary healthcare”.

        You can access the full Best for the Bush Rural and Remote Health Base Line 2023 research paper here.

        You can read the RFDS Best for the Bush summary and recommendations here.