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Government announces long term health blueprint, Medicare priorities

The government has released Australia’s Long-Term National Health Plan, promising to make the health system “the world’s number one”.

“The story of health in Australia is sometimes viewed through the prism of large numbers, such as $435 billion for the health and aged care system over the next four years,” Minister for Health Greg Hunt told the national press club recently. "In reality though, the story of health in Australia is the story of each individual life – their fears, their challenges, their hopes and their triumphs."

He told stories of patients who have achieved “a better future” because of the Australian system, like 5-year-old Scarlett who has access to cystic fibrosis drugs listed on the PBS which normally would cost $300,000.

He boasted that the Australian health system is "ranked number two and ranked number one for clinical outcomes” and put this down to the “extraordinary” doctors, nurses and other health professionals that work in it.

The government has outlined areas for improvement with its blueprint made up of four key pillars.

  • Guaranteeing Medicare and improving access to medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Supporting our public and private hospitals, including improvements to private health insurance
  • Prioritising mental health and preventive health
  • Investing in health and medical research

Hunt pointed to increases in Medicare funding in 2019–20 – $104 billion, up from $75 billion in 2012–13 – as proof of progress and said the government will spend a total of $435 billion on health investment over four years.

There will also be a focus on improving the mental health sector. In the plan, $55 million has been set aside for suicide prevention with an extra $12 million pledged for suicide research.

Hunt told the press club that the government wants to “decrease the rate of avoidable admissions and to decrease the rate of avoidable re-admissions” and plans to invest $1.25 billion specifically for innovation in hospitals.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association chief executive Alison Verhoeven welcomed this investment, along with the government’s renewed commitment to mental health.

“The $90 million Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study announced today by Minister for Health Greg Hunt is a great boost to reforming our health system for better value and affordability for patients and for the nation,” she said.

“It is also pleasing to see mental health, and nutrition and physical activity added in to the characteristics being surveyed. As noted by the Minister it has been several years since these areas were surveyed comprehensively.

“All these data will provide up-to-date valuable intelligence to address the burden of chronic disease through providing better targeted and better value healthcare.”

Elsewhere, the National Rural Health Alliance welcomed government commitment to rural health outcomes. They pointed to the plan to “bring an additional 3,00 extra doctors and 3,000 extra nurses to rural Australia over 10 years”.

“The Plan also needs to offer suitable incentives to attract and retain allied health staff, in the same way that incentives are offered to GPs,” said Dr Gabrielle O’Kane, chief executive of the National Rural Health Alliance.

However, O’Kane believes the government has missed an opportunity to address the effect climate change has on health outcomes.

“Much of the country is in the midst of a severe and prolonged drought, with rural, regional and remote communities experiencing high rates of poor mental health and suicide, yet a long-term commitment to a plan to address these links is missing,” said O’Kane.

The plan has also outlined $1.45 billion in medical research through the Medical Research Future Fund, including $185 million in dementia research and a future $600 million investment in research for better treatment of rare diseases.

“This system depends on a vision of being the best in the world and we can only achieve that with a strong economy. And we can only deliver that with a long-term national health plan and a blueprint for mental health development out to 2030,” Hunt said.

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