Heart health worry

November 07, 2017

Head of Shepparton's Rural Clinical School and Professor of Medicine Julian Wright.


New Heart Foundation research shows death rates from heart disease are 60 per cent higher in rural and regional towns, while Shepparton and Bendigo have the highest heart hospital admission rates in Victoria.

News journalist Rhiannon Tuffield investigates.

A Shepparton doctor has spoken out about the prevalence of heart-related health issues, linking the problem to isolation, low income and a lack of services.

The issue has been highlighted as a huge concern for rural and regional communities and Greater Shepparton has been named as having some of the highest heart admission rates in Victoria in a report released by the Heart Foundation.

Head of Shepparton’s Rural Clinical School and Professor of Medicine Julian Wright said the statistics were of significant concern and a number of contributors were to blame.

Prof Wright, who co-authored a research article into chronic ill health in rural areas, said the problem was a result of several social determinants of health, such as poor education attainment, unemployment, inability to obtain suitable housing, distance to services and inequitable distribution of resources.

Greater Shepparton’s ageing population paired with obesity and diabetes rates and a low health literacy has also raised the risk factor.

‘‘Certainly our elderly community is at risk and also our Aboriginal population, because we know that, very disappointingly, the Closing the Gap initiatives have not been completely successful so far,’’ Prof Wright said.

‘‘We have a visiting cardiologist and private services but that in no way meets the demand we need to address this issue.’’

New research from the Heart Foundation shows the death rate from heart disease is 60 per cent higher in rural and regional towns compared to the city and hospitalisations due to heart attack are double.

For indigenous Australians, deaths are 70 per cent higher and Victorian centres Shepparton and Bendigo have the highest heart hospital admission rates in the state.

While Prof Wright believed there was a good understanding locally around health awareness and outcomes, service accessibility was the major factor behind the lag.

He said the medical workforce shortage in regional and rural areas meant many residents had limited or not access to cardiologists when they needed them and were more likely to be managed by a GP.

‘‘If you want to see a specialist or if you need an angiogram you have to go to Melbourne and, if we’re talking about socio-economic factors, it can be difficult to afford that level of travel or expense of staying away,’’ he said.

The issue has been addressed at a small level through a significant expansion in the number of practitioners in the region, which promoted health lifestyles and awareness.

But Prof Wright said access to facilities like gymnasiums as well as healthy, cheap food needed to be pushed.

‘‘I think public awareness of the problem is another really important driver and that’s something that’s going to make for a change,’’ he said.

‘‘The other thing we need is an expansion of health services, and the new hospital building is a fantastic opportunity for this.’’

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