The 2023-24 State Budget recognises the need for further investment in health services in regional areas, which is a priority issue identified in WALGA’s State Budget Submission.

An additional $342 million has been provided for health and mental health services in regional areas.

Importantly, the Budget provides funding to attract and retain health sector workers in regional areas, an issue that has been consistently raised by WALGA members in recent years. Key initiatives announced in the Budget to address challenges with healthcare workers in the regions include:
  • a targeted payment of up to $12,000 over three years for HECS-HELP debt relief for up to 350 newly qualified nurses and midwives commencing employment in regional Western Australia in 2023-24, with priority given to hard-to-staff sites ($4.2 million over 2023-24 to 2025-26)

  • $4.7 million in additional funding to continue temporary employee incentives across 75 hard-to-staff regional locations in 2023 (taking total spending on these temporary regional incentives to $12.9 million)

  • A further $15 million provisioned in 2023-24 for the highest priority health and mental health related Temporary Regional Incentives.

  • $8.2 million over 2023-24 and 2024-25 to address critical regional staff accommodation priorities aimed at supporting the attraction and retention of the health workforce needed to deliver essential health care services across regional and remote Western Australia.

The Budget has also allocated $24.4 million from 2023-24 to 2026-27 for the WA Country Health Service to continue the Mental Health Emergency Telehealth Service, which is available at 90 sites across all regions of the State and enables mental health treatment for patients in their community.
Other key health initiatives for the regions include:
  • $9.8 million for the Mental Health Commission in 2024-25 for Statewide suicide prevention initiatives, which is a welcome investment given the higher rates of suicide in regional areas

  • $35.5 million to expand the Government's response to the Infant, Children and Adolescent (ICA) taskforce report, including a new mental health hub pilot in Bunbury

  • $5.4 million over 2023-24 to 2026-27 to continue psychiatry and staff educator positions funded under the Commitment to Aboriginal Youth Wellbeing

  • $18.3 million over 2023-24 and 2024-25 to match Commonwealth funding to support the construction of a new South West Aboriginal Health Hub in Bunbury

  • $13 million for specialist regional services.

Enhanced spending to support equitable access to health services in regional areas is welcome and will go some way to address this important issue that has been consistently highlighted by WALGA and Local Governments. However there is more work to be done by both the State and Federal Government to coordinate their activities to ensure that regional communities have access to General Practitioners and other primary and allied health services.