I rise to speak about the challenge facing regional and rural health services and urge the government to inject much-needed funds to assist in meeting the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In my electorate of Indi, we are getting our first taste of the new COVID-normal world. After months of lockdowns and border closures we are opening up in line with the national plan and, as predicted under the plan, we are experiencing COVID-19 in the community, a first for many regional towns in my electorate.

Across Indi, regional people have answered the call to get vaccinated. More than 94 per cent of people have had one dose and 74 per cent are fully vaccinated. Now with outbreaks in our border community, overwhelmingly, these people have answered the call to get tested so much so that the local testing sites in Wodonga were turning people away by 10 am yesterday. It’s not the first time people in my community have faced waits of hours and hours only to be told to go home.

Importantly, this is not a criticism of local health services. They have diligently planned for this situation, working through outbreak scenarios, putting processes in place, working out contingencies and understanding what resources are needed. They are asking people to be patient. The dedicated health workforce are putting in long hours in really uncomfortable, heavy PPE, to keep people safe but they’re looking for support and resources that simply aren’t coming.

The community is doing the right thing. The local health services are doing the right thing. Our health workers are doing the right thing. But where is the federal government?

When the Deputy Prime Minister was asked what the federal government would do to support regional health services, he said, ‘Thankfully we don’t own a hospital.’ Now that is appalling. We’ve seen hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney at capacity and struggling to care for patients with COVID-19, let alone the normal daily running of the hospital. I don’t want that for our regional health services in my electorate or anywhere in regional Australia, where the challenges in finding staff and ageing infrastructure are so longstanding.

We know that rural people are 47 per cent more likely to have diabetes, 50 per cent more likely to have cancer and 20 per cent more likely to have kidney disease than our city cousins. Victorians living in regional areas have a four per cent lower cancer survival rate than those living in Melbourne, and as a former nurse and midwife I know regional health services are stretched on a good day.

More than 2,500 people have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for proper investment for the future of regional health, and he needs to answer that call. I’ll be meeting with him after I give this speech today to make sure he reads that letter and hears from regional Australians.

The government needs to come to the table and properly fund regional health services to provide surge capacity for testing and to monitor COVID patients in their home. Now is the time to truly invest in regional health.

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