Like so many of us in regional Victoria, I am relieved that our communities have recently had some COVID restrictions eased.
I know sacrifices are being made by people every day. Despite the hardships, we've been doing our part to keep everyone safe.
But we need the government to hold up its end of the bargain and make sure our regional health system is ready for the next phase of this pandemic.
Before I became an MP, I worked in rural and regional health care for more than three decades.
On a normal day, our health services are at capacity. It's always been hard to recruit enough staff to keep up with demand, and in many of our towns the infrastructure is old and needs updating.
COVID has magnified the challenges facing regional health systems. It doesn't have to be this way.
We have an opportunity right now to start building a regional healthcare system that not only prepares us for the next phase of COVID, but is properly resourced to deal with whatever the future will bring. But we need to start right now.
As a former health researcher and nurse, I know what it's like on the frontlines of our regional health system. And I know how much better it could be if we had the resources we need.
Our healthcare staff are incredible, but they are tired.
That's why I've written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to act on the concerns of frontline health workers and make sure the national plan doesn't leave regional Australia behind.
And I'm asking you to sign it alongside me. Sign my open letter to the Prime Minister and ensure that regional health isn't left out of the national plan.
The government has known that this moment would come since the very first cases of COVID appeared in Australia.
But despite having more than 18 months to get our health system ready, there are still fears our health system is not prepared.
We need urgent action and funding from the state and federal government. Our nurses, doctors and allied health workers need the resources for the long haul.
Before the pandemic hit, we knew that rural Australians had higher rates of chronic disease, longer distances to travel for care and a shortage of GPs.
On top of this we are beginning to see COVID cases in our community, and there will be more. There is also the need to deliver more vaccines and, eventually, booster shots. This will put even more strain on our health system.
The best time to start long-term planning was 18 months ago, the second best time is now.
This pandemic has shown us just how important it is to properly invest in our healthcare system. We need a national cabinet approach to resolving workforce shortages across the country.
And regional Australia needs investment to update much of its ageing infrastructure. A new hospital at Albury-Wodonga Health would be a good place to start.
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