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Major cuts to allied health scholarships

SARRAH CEO Rod Wellington
Photo: SARRAH CEO Rod Wellington
Allied health has been dealt a $72.5 million blow, with the Federal Government slashing its funding for health workforce scholarships over four years.

Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH), the peak body for rural and remote allied health professionals, has called on the government to reverse the funding cuts which it fears poses a major risk to undergraduate and postgraduate students wanting to pursue education from 2018 onwards.

In a letter to parliamentarians, SARRAH CEO Rod Wellington said while the organisation received a funding agreement to provide $1.72 million for 190 allied health scholarships this year, the move represents a 65 per cent cut based on the allocation of 548 allied health scholarships in 2016.
“This cut in funding for the 2017 cohort of students will have a longer term adverse impact on the rural and remote health workforce,” he said in the letter.

“At a minimum, successful scholars should be afforded a mechanism through which they can maintain their financial support beyond 2017.

“This will ensure that a cohort of allied health professionals is not lost in the transition to the new Health Workforce Scholarship Program to be rolled out during 2017.”

Late last year, Rural Health Assistant Minister Dr David Gillespie said the overhauled scholarship program was being finalised and would be launched in early 2017, after it was first expected to begin on July 1, 2016.

In its Federal Budget submission for 2017-18, SARRAH states while there are benefits to consolidating the Nursing and Allied Health Scholarship and Support Scheme (NAHSS) and other scholarship programs into a single scholarship program, the new Health Workforce Scholarship Program, it holds concerns allied health is being inequitably treated compared with the nursing and medical workforce.

“There is a critical lack of research, data and evidence related to the allied health workforce as a whole in Australia, compared with that available on the nursing and midwifery and medical professions,” it states.

“SARRAH believes the lack of data and research about the allied health workforce and the contribution it makes to health outcomes reflects a wider inequity in the allocation of resources for allied health.”

SARRAH has called for funding under the new program to be set at the level of NAHSS Allied Health Scholarships in 2010-11, which stood at $12.14 million.

The organisation has also used its budget submission to call for the introduction of a blended primary health care payment model, an investment in technology, such as telehealth services, and mentoring for rural and remote allied health professionals in a bid to boost workforce retention.

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords