Covid hospital funding deal extended

4 minute read

National Cabinet has agreed on a $760m extension to the 50-50 share, but the PM says reform may not mean more money.

National Cabinet this morning extended the covid national partnership agreement for 50-50 hospital funding until the end of the year, while the NSW Premier hinted again at greater integration between the GP network and public hospitals.

But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese cautioned that further reform of the health system “isn’t necessarily about additional dollars”, and said lack of GP availability was the main problem that needed recognising.

The announcement falls short of what the AMA had flagged as “preferable” – an extension until 2025.

An extension of funding until the end of the year “isn’t enough, but it’s a critical first step, because without that our hospitals will of course suffer even worse outcomes when it comes to the end of that agreement in September”, AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid told reporters.

Following his first meeting with state and territory leaders, Mr Albanese said the agreement had been extended “in recognition of the pressure that health and hospitals continue to be under”.

Health secretaries, led by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet head Professor Glyn Davis, would also review health funding and arrangements with an eye to implementing health reforms, Mr Albanese said.

He made it clear, however, that funding was not his current focus.

“What [reform’s] about isn’t necessarily additional dollars,” the PM said. “What it’s about is a recognition that our hospital system at the moment has people who should be being looked after by their local GP – but GPs just aren’t available. And that the lack of nurses and health professionals in the aged care system means many people who should either be being looked after at home or as aged care residents end up in the hospital system as well, putting further pressure on the system.”

Asked about 50-50 health funding arrangements, other than those in the covid-response partnership – including a timetable and key targets for the hospital system – Mr Albanese said simply, “No, those issues weren’t raised”.

He added that leaders would cooperate on the location of the urgent care clinics announced early in the ALP’s election campaign, which were designed to take the pressure off EDs.

RACGP vice-president Dr Bruce Willett said it was essential that the planned review under Professor Davis carefully consider the future of general practice care.

“I understand this review will identify practical improvements to the health system, including the connections between GPs and hospitals,” he said. “It will also identify practical methods to get aged care residents and NDIS participants out of hospital and into more appropriate settings.

“That is welcome news and it’s essential that GPs have a prominent voice at the table when considering how to improve the operation of our health system.

“We have seen many reviews over the years,” Dr Willett cautioned. “It is essential that the review results in a change that best supports Australians and the GP services on which they depend. We must get this right, otherwise patients will miss out on the care and support they need.

“The government must also have front of mind that boosting investment in general practice care will relieve pressure on the entire health system and improve patient health outcomes.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he welcomed the outcome of the meeting since health reform was something “that’s been in the too-hard basket for too long”.

“The lack of integration between the GP network and primary care and the public health system is a challenge that every jurisdiction is facing,” he said. “Working closely with the Commonwealth government, I think there’s a great opportunity for substantive reform in that space.”

However, the Premier trod the same line as the PM when it came to funding reform.

“As the Prime Minister has said, this is not about money,” Mr Perrottet said. “It’s about working together on substantial reform, and I thought today’s National Cabinet was refreshingly collaborative.”

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