At National Cabinet the Prime Minister delivered a historic health agreement to strengthen Medicare.
For too long we’ve seen governments stuck in trench warfare playing the blame game on hospital funding. This infuriates Australians when all they want is to make sure they don’t spend hours ramped in an ambulance or waiting in an overcrowded emergency department.
That’s why the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers came together to agree on a landmark hospital funding agreement – lifting the current commonwealth contribution to public hospitals from around 40 per cent to 45 per cent over 10 years.
It will see the federal government provide billions of dollars in additional funding – almost $200 billion in public hospital funding, including an additional $13.2bn in the five years to 2030.
Importantly, hospital funding will increase every year and the 6.5 per cent funding cap that was placed on public hospitals will be replaced by a more generous approach that includes a first year catch-up growth premium so that hospitals can get on with their work – delivering healthcare to our communities. This funding will give state governments the confidence to invest in their public hospitals, focusing their efforts on easing ramping and clearing their elective surgery backlogs that built up over the course of COVID.
Importantly, the final agreement will deliver further integration of our fragmented health system: ensuring that hospitals, aged care and general practices are working together to get better health outcomes.
This health agreement will give us an opportunity to address intractable issues like workforce shortages far more comprehensively. This is a much fairer deal for all states, particularly for the smaller states, who will be considerably better off.
It’s not just hospital funding which the Prime Minister and premiers saw the importance of investing in. The commonwealth and the states agreed to a package of reforms to secure the future of the NDIS and to develop a shared system of supports for people living with disability who are currently outside the NDIS.
They also agreed to an additional $1.2 billion in new investment to continue strengthening Medicare and take pressure off hospitals. This will be done by easing the pathways out of hospital, so older Australians who are ready for discharge have somewhere safe and comfortable to go.
It included streamlining how we recruit highly educated overseas doctors from places like Canada or the UK, so it’s easier to see a doctor in the outer suburbs of our major cities and rural and regional Australia.
And importantly the Strengthening Medicare package included expanding our highly successful network of Medicare Urgent Care Clinics.
Our Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, with all 58 open by the end of the year, are already taking pressure off emergency departments. The clinics we have already opened have seen over 83,000 presentations. Nearly 1 in 3 patients have been under 15. Nearly 1 in 3 visits have been on weekends. And on weekdays, more than 1 in 5 visits have been after 6pm.
At Logan Hospital, after the Logan Medicare Urgent Care Clinic opened in August, the following month the hospital saw a drop of non-urgent presentations by 10 per cent.
At the Ipswich Hospital, after the Ipswich Medicare Urgent Care Clinic opened, their non-urgent presentations
dropped by more than 25 per cent. When a kid breaks their arm or when a worker gets a deep cut they are attending their local urgent care clinic and getting the care they need without spending hours in a hospital emergency department.
This is what strengthening Medicare looks like: investing in primary care and bulk billing and taking pressure off our hospitals.
What Australians want to see from all their governments is prioritising healthcare, hospitals, and better disability support, and that is what the Prime Minister delivered at National Cabinet.
This opinion piece was published in The Australian, on Tuesday the 19th of December 2023.