Rural Health Channel to go off air

The Rural Health Education Foundation (RHEF) has been forced to close its doors and cease operating the Rural Health Channel, with the not-for-profit organisation saying it was no longer financially viable following a reduction in government-contracted work.

The RHEF has been in operation since 1995, and in May 2012 began broadcasting the Rural Health Channel over Optus' Aurora digital satellite to areas that cannot receive terrestrial digital television. It was the first narrow-cast telecaster launched on the government’s Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) platform and was funded by a $300,000 federal grant.

In addition to documentaries and forums, the channel broadcast programs and health education information on behalf of government, professional organisations and health associations. Many were contracted by the federal Department of Health and in 2012 it produced two CPD-accredited online learning modules for the RACGP. It also carried content from groups such as men's reproductive health body Andrology Australia.

Chairman of the foundation's board, David Rosenthal, said the RHEF was “reluctant and very sad” to make the decision, but that the reduction in government work meant it was no longer financially viable.

“Government contracts are fundamental to the foundation being able to deliver a regular stream of educational programming to those who use our service, which in turn enables us to attract independent contributors and funding,” Dr Rosenthal said in a statement.

“At the same time, our enforced move to the digital platform with its associated infrastructure liabilities was effectively a double blow to our financial position.”

The foundation was funded to deliver eight continuing medical education programs to rural health and medical professionals by producing, broadcasting and distributing television-based distance learning.

It also produced content for primary healthcare organisations on topics such as the role and function of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, how to help prevent tobacco use and assist indigenous Australians to quit, and a DVD containing a documentary and panel discussion on the effect of telehealth for rural and remote areas called The New Bush Telegraph.

It had also moved into broadcasting highlights from health conferences, including one on palliative care and another on rural and remote health research.

The foundation's most recent annual report shows it experienced a drop in contracted work in 2011, which when allied to its investment in the television channel meant it took a hit to its balance sheet. However, Dr Rosenthal reported in October 2012 that it was financially solvent and the situation was expected to improve.

RHEF CEO Helen Craig said the foundation was currently working through the closure process with a firm of liquidators. Surplus funds will be distributed to a like-minded association.

A spokesman for Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash, who has responsibility for rural health, said the minister was aware that the organisation would be closing, including no longer broadcasting programs on the Rural Health Channel, but that it was not her decision.

“The Foundation is an independent organisation and its decision to cease operations has not been generated by any withdrawal of funding by this government,” the spokesman said.

“The government’s commitment to frontline health services in regional and remote communities continues unabated.

“The government will continue its current level of support for the continuing professional development of health professionals in rural and remote communities, including through the Rural Health Continuing Education program."

Posted in Allied Health

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