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Drought and a lack of regional services affects the health of regional Australians

Photo: Drought, distance drive health woes: CWA
The NSW Country Women's Association says the drought and a lack of regional services are having a negative impact on the health of regional Australians.

Regional and remote communities hundreds of kilometres from medical and mental health services are neglecting their wellbeing as drought tightens its stranglehold, the NSW Country Women's Association warns.

President Annette Turner says the service gap in the bush is now on the brink of crisis.

Health services for those around the far western community of Whitecliffs, where Ms Turner lives, are often remote.

When people there need specialist treatment, she said, they must to travel to a city and the costs quickly stack up.

"While you're there you're leaving the farm, the family, the cost of accommodation is exorbitant," she told AAP on Tuesday.
"It's very expensive and people are going to the first, initial visit and not going back because they can't afford it."

Ms Turner has spent the week speaking out about the lack of GPs, psychologists, dentists and substance abuse counsellors in the bush in a bid to raise awareness of the divide between urban and regional NSW.

Top of her mind are regional Australians who she says are putting cancer treatment aside because they can't afford to leave the farm - their only income source.

"They're putting it on the backburner but we all know the outcome of cancer," she said.

The drought might hit the farm first but it doesn't take long before the regional towns which depend on agriculture feel the pinch. And social problems soon follow.

Data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reveals all but two regions of NSW, outside Sydney, have experienced increases in methamphetamine use and possession over the past five years.

Ms Turner said alcohol and drugs were impacting whole families and meal times in the bush "aren't happy times" with parents worried about bills with dry fields.

"Obviously we know what happens without (drug and alcohol treatment) services," she said.

"We need to be aware of this with the drought - it's so easy to have that extra beer and wine to forget what's happening in the world. It can sneak up on you."

Isolation and long working hours also drive up mental health risks, she added.

"People are not getting out and seeing each other, it's so difficult. You can't ask people if they're okay, they're working daylight till dark - and longer."

Telehealth, video chatting with doctors in urban centres, could fix some of the issues, Ms Turner said.

"But we still don't have great connectivity in some areas."

What her branch of the CWA are calling for is financial incentives and infrastructure investment that will see GPs and other service providers to move to the bush and stay.

"Seven million Australians live outside our major cities but when it comes to allocating health funding, this level of representation doesn't seem to count for much," she said.


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