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Health reform in jeopardy

The federal government is being called upon to make last minute changes to the legislative framework of the National Health Performance Authority.

A lack of consultation by the federal government over the establishment of the proposed new hospitals watchdog is risking the future of health reform, according to the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

The National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) will set national standards and assess the performance of public hospitals around the country. However, the legislation to establish the organisation fails to recognise the role of states and territory governments as the “majority funders and system managers of our public health services” as previously agreed by all governments, said Prue Power, AHHA executive director.

“This is despite the fact that state/territory ministers are accountable to their populations, along with their senior officials, to meet the demands of a dynamic and complex system and for making sure services are available at all times.

"It is completely unacceptable that the Commonwealth government failed to involve the states and territories in developing the legislation and did not advise them when the bill was to be introduced into Parliament, giving them no time to provide input into the Bill. This undermines the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement and the Heads of Agreement formulated at the COAG meeting last month as well as the Commonwealth's stated commitment to a cooperative approach to health reform with the states and territories.”

As a result of this lack of consultation, Power said the legislative framework of the NHPA has a number of critical flaws which will reduce its capacity to fulfil its role.

AHHA is calling on the government to agree to make last-minute amendments to the bill, in consultation with state and territory governments. They are also seeking an ongoing commitment to involving the states and territories, as system managers of public healthcare, in the following processes: NHPA strategic planning; developing performance indicators to assess quality; and dealing with underperforming hospitals when necessary.

"At this stage, the legislation prevents the jurisdictions from participating in all these activities. The Commonwealth needs to act now to remedy this situation and urgently seek input from state and territory governments on this critical piece of legislation," Power said.

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