Health tech wins big in NSW budget

3 minute read

The state is redoubling efforts to crack down on opioids and bring health records into the 21st century.

In what it is calling a record investment in health, the NSW Liberal government has committed more than $30 billion to the sector in this week’s budget announcement.

As expected, big chunks of change are heading straight to the pandemic front lines, funding PPE, vaccine distribution and pop-up clinics.

Major health infrastructure projects and rural health, all told, were allocated $4 billion for health capital projects across regional and metro areas.

Digital health was the next biggest winner, with $500 million in funding earmarked for various projects over the next four years, including the Single Digital Patient Record, Real Time Prescription Monitoring and the NSW Telestroke Service.

The Single Digital Patient Record initiative, which received $141 million in the budget, has been in the works for almost two years and promises to consolidate patient records from three different patient management systems.

The platform will collate data from Patient Administration System (PAS), Electronic Medical Record (eMR) and Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) to create a “lifelong” patient record which can be accessed anywhere within the state’s health system.

Although NSW Health has plans to deliver the initiative in partnership with an industry vendor, the final solution will not be available in primary care or private hospitals.

Due to a lengthy procurement process, it is likely that it will take another five years for the cloud-based project to be fully implemented.

Real Time Prescription Monitoring is another long called-for initiative, with systems already implemented in Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, and in development in Queensland and South Australia.

The NSW government has allocated $37.3 million for the program, which will “track medicines associated with a high risk of causing harm, dependence or misuse”.

It appears the funding couldn’t come at a better time, with research published in the MJA just this week finding more than half of unintentional opioid deaths in Australia involve prescription opioids.

Using real time monitoring, prescribers and dispensers will be able to identify patients who may be drug-dependent or drug-seeking.

NSW Health plans to introduce regulations to support Real Time Prescription Monitoring via an amendment to the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008.

Although the system is welcomed by virtually all expert groups, a submission made by the Royal Australian College of Physicians to the NSW government in March of this year outlined concerns around unintended misuse of such a platform.

“Real Time Prescription Monitoring could lead to unintended consequences, such as unfairly stigmatising patients with substance use disorders, the diversion of patients away from prescription medicines toward illicit drugs and access barriers for those patients with medical needs, in particular, patients with opioid dependence, if these wider systemic issues are not addressed,” the RACP wrote.

In addition to the monitoring program, the NSW government also allotted $25.3 million to fast-track electronic prescribing, which will purportedly support home delivery of medicines.

$21.7 million has been earmarked for the Telestroke service, in partnership with the Commonwealth government, which will aim to provide 24/7 access to specialist clinical advice for acute ischaemic stroke patients in regional areas.

An unspecified amount has also been allocated to expanding virtual care and telehealth.

Mental health received funding for various projects, including child and adolescent mental health crisis teams, rural mental health response and recovery specialists and for PACER, a program aimed at first responders attending a mental health crisis.

Other sums allocated in the state budget over the forward estimates for healthcare projects include $82.8 million for palliative care services, $34 million for additional paramedic training and $8.6 million to support community care for people with neurodegenerative disorders.

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