The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has been saved from being forced to wind back its services due to a lack of funding.
$20 million of the additional funding will go towards dental care, the rest mental health
RFDS chief executive says it means vital services will not have to be wound back
Malcolm Turnbull made the announcement in Broken Hill this afternoon
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a visit to the RFDS base in Broken Hill this morning to announce $84 million for mental and dental care.
"This is going to enable the employment of additional mental health nurses and psychologists by the RFDS, which of course provides medical care to over 330,000 people a year," Mr Turnbull said.
"So this very is a substantial increase in mental health services being available in rural and remote Australia."
RFDS chief executive Martin Laverty had been in consultation with the Federal Government to secure the funding, and feared that without a boost, rural and regional areas would lose access to much-needed medical help.
"I was pretty concerned a few months ago that with rising costs and with changing arrangements between states and the Commonwealth, that we were looking at being short-changed," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the extra cash, which is included in the May budget, would save lives.
"It's deserved funding and most importantly it is going where it is needed," he said.
"For those people who chose to live in these areas, they should have access to the sorts of services that people in city areas take for granted."
The boost brings total Commonwealth funding of the RFDS to $327 million over the next four years.
Mr Laverty is now confident all services will continue and the RFDS will be able to expand its operations.
"We can guarantee services right across remote Australia will continue for the next four years and will be able to extend dental services and start much-needed support for people with mental health issues living in remote Australia," he said.
The Prime Minister thanked the RFDS staff at the Broken Hill base for their commitment to rural and remote health care.
"You're dealing with some of the most challenging medical emergencies and health care environments in Australia, and doing so with great love and great passion," he said.
'It will help immensely'
Access to mental health services in rural and regional Australia is a struggle for many people and Mr Laverty wants to change that.
"People in regional Australia access mental health services at only one-fifth of the rate of people who live in the city. If that's not a crisis, I really don't know what is," he said.
Brendan Cullen from far-west New South Wales reached out to the RFDS a couple of years ago for help with his depression.
The sheep and cattle farmer considers himself one of the lucky ones, because he could access help.
"A lot of people don't like to leave their house or be the ones to walk into a hospital, so if they are able to talk to someone on the phone and those health workers can get out on the farm or speak to people in the town centres that would be a massive step," he said.
Some of the additional federal funding will be used by the RFDS to establish a new national mental health program that will be up and running by next year.
Mr Laverty said dozens of additional staff would be hired, including psychologists and mental healthcare nurses.
"We are intending to offer a mix of services where every day, flying doctors' clinics fly in with GPs, nurses, dentists, and now we will be able to add mental health staff as well.
"In addition, we will be running tele health services and also look at ways of preventing mental illness occurring within communities."
Mr Cullen said he was pleased more people in regional and rural Australia would soon have access to adequate services.
"I just think it's extraordinary, it will help immensely, especially in the rural sector that's for sure," he said.
Extra funding for dental services
About $20 million of the additional funding will also ensure dental services are offered to people outside of metropolitan cities.
The RFDS has tested a dental program for the past two years and funding was running out but the extra cash will make it permanent.
Mr Laverty said he was confident the charity would continue to grow and expand the services it offers.
"The Flying Doctor is becoming the flying dentist and the flying mental healthcare provider by ensuring that people who work in the [regional] communities [and] have served for 90 years can have access to doctors, nurses, mental health and dental services when they need it," he said.
This article was published and provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.