MORE SUPPORT: Small towns need better access to mental health professionals such as psychologists.
MORE SUPPORT: Small towns need better access to mental health professionals such as psychologists. John Gass

Our small towns lack vital services

SMALL towns across Australia are missing out on vital services, a new report has shown.

The Regional Australia Institute released its Small Towns Report Card on Thursday, which showed small towns of less than 5000 people had a lack of psychologists, preschool teachers and dentists.

Access to psychologists in small towns rose between 1-6 per cent over the past 30years, scoring an F grade on the report card.

Only 5 per cent of small towns across Australia had access to a dentist in 2011.

RAI chief executive officer Jack Archer said the Report Card ranked how the nation fared in providing access to 10 essential professionals for residents living in small towns across Australia, taken from data gathered over a 30-year period.

"For many of the 1.8million Australians who live in small towns, accessing a GP, dentist, preschool teacher or psychologist is nearly impossible,” Mr Archer said.

"This lack of service professionals coincides with higher rates of early childhood development issues in rural and remote areas. We see the same pattern in dentistry and mental health, which are also areas where regional outcomes have been poor for a long time.

"The RAI report suggests four ways to address service delivery in small towns. These include supporting community initiatives, role flexibility, delivery of online services and targeted funding.”

South Burnett Mayor Keith Campbell said access to psychology especially was an issue in the small towns across the region.

"Those sort of intense medical programs that people require I believe there is an absolute shortage of those throughout the region,” Cr Campbell said.

"I don't believe it's possible for those sort of people to come and set up practices in really small towns unless they have a good client base.

"South Burnett Regional Council, through its association with the South Burnett community hospital, is trying desperately to build up services available through the local community hospital, as is the public hospital.”

He said a number of issuesraised in the report were not issues for South Burnett towns.

"In relation to schools, I don't believe any of the small towns in the South Burnett region are disadvantaged, I believe we have excellent schooling,” hesaid.

"In terms of social services that are available, we have a wonderful network of care agencies.”

Cr Campbell said a number of those services in the small towns were based out of main hubs in Kingaroy.

"The South Burnett is 8400sq km in size and Kingaroy is regarded as the centre of those sorts of activities,” he said.

"It is not a huge trip for people living in all locations in the South Burnett to journey into Kingaroy if services are available there.

"A lot of people travel out of the area for those services. What I'd like to do is encourage people to utilise services that are available here, which will encourage more professionals to come as well.”

What we need

  • The report card listed these professions as most needed: GPs, nurses, psychologists, dentists, preschool, primary and high school teachers, police officers, paramedics and social welfare workers.
  • If you need help phone Lifeline on 131114, Beyond Blue on 1300224636 or Kids Helpline 1800551800.
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