6 Rapid Review Chapters – MJA Supplement

December 2020


Beyond the black stump:

6 rapid reviews of health research issues affecting regional, rural and remote Australia

Despite nearly 30% of Australians living in rural areas and facing significant disadvantage due to socio-economic status, job opportunities, educational attainment and access to health and social services, only 2.5% of government funding is directed at supporting rural health research. To address this obvious gap, the Spinifex Network was established in 2019 in Alice Springs, NT, with the aim of improving the livelihoods of these Australians by improving access to and building the capacity of healthcare in these communities and advocating for increased funding and support for rural, remote, and regional researchers.

In line with this mission, these original publications were commissioned by the Spinifex Network to spotlight the unique issues of healthcare in rural, remote, and regional settings and, as such, advocate for continued research and research funding to address these. Drawing on the extensive expertise and insight of our members, we identified the most critical issues facing rural, remote, and regional Australian communities.

These are considered as: food security in rural and remote Australian communities; impact of natural disasters on people living in rural and remote areas; recruitment and retention of a sustainable rural health workforce; and global crises affecting people in rural and remote settings. We find these issues to be underexplored in existing literature and thus requiring priority in investment from policymakers and attention from researchers.

Additionally, their publication in the Medical Journal of Australia supplement highlights their potential. The Medical Journal of Australia is a leading national peer-reviewed journal, published semi-monthly covering all important issues affecting Australian health care, including the latest in Australian medical and clinical research, evidence-based reviews, and contemporary debates and opinions from experts in the field.

In publishing these reviews, we aim to ensure that any potential investment in rural, remote, and regional communities is both careful and considered. We believe utilising an evidence-based approach will ensure funding is directed at critical areas and issues in order to decrease the potential of wastage and increase the likelihood of long-term success.

This targeted approach to research and funding is crucial in addressing the divide between rural, remote, and regional communities and their city counterparts. With such investment, we hope to identify effective interventions that can inform policy and practice and thus realise improved health outcomes for these diverse and vibrant communities.

6 Rapid Review Infographics

Theme: Food Security

Chapter 1: Retail initiatives to improve the healthiness of food environments in rural, regional and remote communities

AUTHORS: Laura V Alston1,2, Kristy A Bolton3, Jill Whelan1, Erica Reeve1, Anna Wong Shee2,4, Jennifer Browne1, Troy Walker1, Vincent L Versace2, Steven Allender1, Melanie Nichols1, Kathryn Backholer1.


  1. Global Obesity Centre, Institute for Health Transformation, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC.
  2. Deakin Rural Health, Deakin University, Geelong And Warrnambool, VIC.
  3. Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC.
  4. Ballarat Health Services, Ballarat, VIC.

Theme: Bushfire Wellbeing

Chapter 2: Which interventions best support the health and wellbeing needs of rural populations experiencing natural disasters?

AUTHORS: Michael Curtin1, Robert Brooks1,2, Sarah Verdon1, Judith Crockett1, Gene Hodgins3


  1. School of Community Health, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW.
  2. Royal Far West, Sydney, NSW.
  3. School of Psychology, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW.

Theme: Natural Disaster

Chapter 3: The impact of bushfire on the wellbeing of children living in rural and remote Australia

AUTHORS: Nicholas Goodwin1, Suzanne Lewis2, Hazel Dalton3, Grace Prael1


  1. Central Coast Research Institute, University of Newcastle, Ourimbah, NSW.
  2. Directorate of Clinical Safety, Quality and Governance, Central Coast Local Health District, Gosford, NSW.
  3. Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, University of Newcastle, Orange, NSW.

Theme: Workforce Maldistribution

Chapter 4: The role of national policies to address rural allied health, nursing and dentistry workforce maldistribution

AUTHORS: Sandra Walsh1, David M Lyle2, Sandra C Thompson3, Vincent L Versace4, Leanne J Browne5, Sabina Knight6, Sabrina W Pit7, Martin Jones1


  1. Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia, Whyalla, SA. 
  2. Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health, University of Sydney, Broken Hill, NSW. 
  3. Western Australian Centre for Rural Health, University of Western Australia, Geraldton, WA. 
  4. Deakin Rural Health, Deakin University, Warrnambool, VIC. 
  5. Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle , Tamworth, NSW. 
  6. Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health, James Cook University, Mount Isa, QLD.
  7. University Centre for Rural Health, Lismore, NSW.

Theme: Data Sources

Chapter 5: Availability and characteristics of publicly available health workforce data sources in Australia

AUTHORS: Marianne H Gillam1, Matthew J Leach2, David A Gonzalez-Chica3, Kuda Muyambi4, Martin Jones4, Sandra Walsh4, Tesfahun Eshetie4, Kham Tran4, Esther May5


  1. Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia, Whyalla and Mount Barker, SA
  2. National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.
  3. Discipline of General Practice, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA. 
  4. Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia , Whyalla and Mount Barker, SA. 
  5. Clinical and Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA .

    Theme: Opioid Tapering

    Chapter 6: Rapid realist review of opioid tapering in the context of long term opioid use for non-cancer pain in rural areas