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Canberra Today 2°/6° | Monday, May 20, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Doctors blast ‘loss of momentum’ for health reform

Doctors say budget measures will do little to ease the pressure on clogged emergency departments. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

By Andrew Brown and Tess Ikonomou in Canberra

Efforts to address Australia’s shortage of general practitioners and ease pressure on clogged emergency departments have been labelled a lost opportunity by the nation’s peak medical body.

Tuesday’s budget includes $588 million to set up a low-intensity mental health service that would allow Australians struggling with mental health to access appointments online without a referral.

The program will be online from the beginning of 2026 and is expected to provide help to 150,000 people annually in a bid to boost suicide prevention services.

The rollout of urgent care clinics will continue, with $227 million to go towards adding 29 centres to 87 now in place.

The clinics are used for patients to have minor illnesses or injuries addressed, often out of hours, to avoid having to go to emergency departments.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson said the measures were a real loss of momentum towards a more efficient and sustainable health system.

“More urgent care clinics are not a long-term strategic solution and the government keeps looking to fund more of them without proper evaluation of their impact,” Professor Robson said.

“What we need is reform that enables general practice to deliver the primary care that our patients need, not piecemeal announcements and changes that further fragment the system.”

Four years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government will provide $825 million for testing and vaccinations against the disease, which includes access to anti-viral medication under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The government will also look to address workforce shortages within the health sector, handing out $116.2 million over the next five years.

The money will include $90 million to make it easier for health workers from overseas to come and work in Australia.

Meanwhile, $17.4 million will be spent to expand an incentive fund for GPs to improve primary care access in areas where there are limited numbers of clinics.

Aged care will also be bolstered by $2.2 billion over the next five years to implement reforms recommended by the Royal Commission into the sector.

The measures also included more than $500 million to provide more than 24,000 home-care packages in the upcoming financial year.

The government will also spend $3.4 billion to list new medicines on the PBS, including for thousands of Australians living with cardiac disease.

Pensioners and concession cardholders needing treatment for their heart problems, will only need to fork out $7.70 for their medicines with the subsidy.

Higher Medicare rebates will also kick in for women to see gynaecological specialists for treatment for conditions such as endometriosis, with $49.1 million set aside.

Funding for HIV awareness organisations, including Health Equity Matters, will be restored.

President of Health Equity Matters Mark Orr said Australia now had the potential to become the first country to achieve “virtual elimination” of the virus.

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