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Federal Budget 2017-18: the sector reacts

Following its release last night, health and aged care peak bodies and industry experts have sorted through the Turnbull Government’s 2017-18 Federal Budget with a fine-tooth comb.

Here, Nursing Review shares what they believe are the biggest wins for the sector and the missed opportunities.

The Australian College of Nursing: Predicted nurse shortages not addressed

The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) welcomed treasurer Scott Morrison’s Budget and its outline of investment and support for four pillars of the health system: guaranteeing Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, supporting hospitals, prioritising preventative and mental health, and investing in medical research.

ACN chief executive Kylie Ward said while some of the investments laid out in the Budget will help to address some of Australia’s biggest health challenges, such as strengthening the My Health Record initiative to better link patient data across the health system, there continues to be a lack of strategy on health workforce development, including the nursing workforce, especially given the predicted nurse shortages.

“There is significant potential to make better use of our nursing workforce to save on healthcare dollars without compromising on patient and broader community health outcomes,” Ward said. “For example, nurse practitioners are not yet working to their full potential in the Australian healthcare system and, as a result, the community is not getting the most out of a cost-effective, highly skilled health care professional workforce.”

Australian Healthcare and Hospital Association: Health policy focus should be expanded

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) chief executive Alison Verhoeven said the Budget partly overturns the horror budgets of the past.

Verhoeven said: “We commend the minister’s pursuit of a more strategic approach to health policy, but the four pillars must be expanded to include primary care, aged care, Indigenous health, and better health outcomes".

Nursing Review spoke with Verhoeven about Medicare, public hospital funding and the measures AHHA was pleased to see.

Public Health Association of Australia: Prevention omitted

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) has expressed disappointment in the lack of investment in prevention.

PHAA said the three most significant causes of ill health in Australia are tobacco, alcohol and poor nutrition, yet these barely receive a mention in the health budget.

Michael Moore, chief executive of PHAA, said: “Expenditure on prevention is likely to remain close to 1.5 per cent of the health budget while the major issues of tobacco, obesity and alcohol remain with minimal increases in funding compared to the investment to remove the freeze on the Medicare rebate".

PHAA said preventive health should compare favourably to countries like Canada and New Zealand with prevention at 5 per cent of the health budget.

The minister is now asking the community to wait another two years for the third wave of reform but two years is too long, Moore said. PHAA added it's disappointing that Indigenous health interventions must also wait for this third wave of reform.

Among the positives for public health, PHHA listed the removal of the Medicare rebate, the decision to equalise the tax treatment of roll-your-own tobacco and cigarettes, investment into mental health and suicide prevention, and the commitment of $19.2 million into improving immunisation rates, as well as the announcement of $10 million over two years to the Heart Foundation for walking interventions and further funding $5 million into material to enable better GP interventions for patients presenting with obesity.

It is disappointing that Indigenous health interventions must also wait for the “third wave” of reform in another two years.

Leading Age Services Australia: No further cuts

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) was pleased to confirm that there were no surprises for the aged care sector in the Budget.

LASA chief executive Sean Rooney said the Turnbull Government’s first federal Budget since its re-election is welcome news after previous Federal Budgets have seen ongoing cuts to aged care funding and associated programs.

Rooney said: “[The 2017-18] Federal Budget provides near term funding stability for the age services industry affording our industry an opportunity to reflect and participate fully in the many policy and program reviews currently underway, without fear of ongoing funding cuts.”

LASA welcomed the specific aged care initiatives announced, including:

  • $5.5 billion over the forward estimates to extend funding arrangements for the Commonwealth Home Support Program.
  • $3.1 million in 2017-18 to improve the My Aged Care IT platform.
  • $1.9 million over two years to establish and support an industry led taskforce to develop an aged care sector workforce strategy.
  • $8.3 million over three years for home-based palliative care, coordinated through the Primary Health Networks.

Rooney said these Budget initiatives are welcomed by the industry but reiterated that the sector needs a longterm, stable and sustainable funding strategy to ensure Australia has an accessible, affordable, quality aged care system.

Palliative Care Australia: PHN funding will help families

It can be challenging for people receiving palliative care and their families to navigate the care system to ensure they receive the right support in the location of their choice, and the Budget announcement of $8.3 million in extra funding for Primary Health Networks will help, Palliative Care Australia (PCA) chief executive Liz Callaghan said.

Callaghan said people at the end of their lives need extra support from a wide range of health services to be able to die in the place of their choice and added 70 per cent of Australians would like to die at home, but nationally only 14 per cent do.

She said: “People who wish to die at home need care from a range of people including palliative care specialists, general practitioners, community nurses and nurse practitioners, community pharmacists, allied health professionals, personal carers as well as social support for themselves and their loved ones. They may also require special equipment such as beds, chairs and showering aids to make them more comfortable and enable their carers to support them safely.

“The last thing a person approaching the end of their life and their family needs is having to spend many hours contacting different health and support services to coordinate their care. If PHN’s are able to fill this role, it will enable families to spend more time with each other and maximise the effectiveness of palliative care services for people at home.”

PCA also welcomed the additional $3 million allocated to the Tasmanian Government to support health professionals in caring for people with terminal illnesses and to enhance community awareness about end-of-life issues.

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