What exactly are your plans for health Mr Abbott?
One thing is surely beyond question in today’s health debate – Tony Abbott will turn up on time. The bigger issue is however – what will he talk about?
While it is clear health will be a key battleground in the coming Federal Election, the Opposition’s plans for our health system remain shrouded in mystery.
The Rudd Government believes in the need for health reform. Immediately after taking office we got to work to address the problems in the system.
Concrete, tangible improvements include 50 per cent funding increase for our health and hospitals system and, in a Commonwealth Government first, the direct investment of $600 million to deliver 62,000 elective surgeries, build new operating theatres and buy more equipment for 125 hospitals. We’ve also given specific grants to upgrade the Emergency Departments at 37 hospitals.
We made the decision to directly fund these improvements because the need for action was clear. I am sure that the 60,000-odd Australians who got their elective surgery do not care where the funding came from – they’re just glad they’re not waiting any more.
And that’s what’s motivating us on health reform – delivering better health and better hospitals for all Australians. In a little over two years we’ve shown that we’re prepared to take a new approach and do what needs to be done to make a difference in health.
In contrast, the Opposition had twelve years in Government but did not lift a finger to reform our health and hospital system. Mr Abbott is even on the record arguing against the need for reform.
What they did do in that time however was cap GP training places, cut a billion dollars from our hospitals and ignore our nurse shortage, but those ideas aren’t going to help our health system now, just as they didn’t help then.
Like a bull stomping around a china shop, Tony Abbott cannot be trusted with our health system.
With twelve years in Government under his belt - and four as Minister for Health, Mr Abbott had his chance to make meaningful, system wide reforms. He ignored it.
It’s hard to take the man as a serious contender for Prime Minister when he can’t manage to even come up with a plan for one of the most pressing issues facing our community – health reform.
Already Mr Abbott has blocked $2 billion in savings that we could use to invest in more doctors, nurses, hospital beds or medications, is blocking the establishment of a Preventative Health Agency, and is stopping the Government from shutting down a dental scheme he set up that is being rorted and preventing thousands of needy Australians from receiving dental care.
Perhaps today Australians will be let in on what Mr Abbott plans for our health system if he were elected, or if the Opposition will stand in the way of our planned reforms.
The Rudd Government’s plan tackles the major structural problems with the current health system by establishing a National Health and Hospitals Network that is nationally funded, and locally run.
Currently, we have eight different systems operating across Australia’s state and territory borders with different funding sources and inconsistent reporting and standards.
Taking on the majority funding responsibility for public hospitals will bring an end to the blame game over hospital funding and the provision of services.
Under Mr Abbott’s watch, the federal contribution to our hospitals declined to 35%. Under our plan, 60% of all hospital services and capital expenditure will be paid out of the federal purse, with the remaining amount paid for by the States. This will provide the system with a sustainable funding base, and clear lines of responsibility.
This approach was recommended by the expert National Health and Hospital Reform Commission. Contrary to some beliefs, the Reform Commission did not recommend the structural upheaval of an immediate 100% funding and operational takeover of hospitals.
Another key feature of the Government’s reform plan is the move to efficiency based funding. The Productivity Commission estimates that some hospitals could be operating 20% more efficiently, which is why we propose to establish an independent umpire to determine the appropriate efficient price for each hospital service.
This would take into account the extra cost of delivering services in remote locations, assuring rural and regional hospitals of a sustainable funding base, despite their extra operating expenses.
This will reduce waste and inefficiencies and ensure more services are provided, with taxpayers getting better bang for their buck.
Local Hospital Networks will be established to run small groups of hospitals engaging the expertise of doctors and nurses and ensuring services for a particular region are planned locally. This will break down the duplication that arises from hospitals operating independently of one another, reduce bureaucracy and deliver more services.
The Commonwealth will use its position as the majority funder to impose strict national standards and reporting requirements, which mean no matter where care is delivered, every patient is assured of the same high standards, plus take on 100% of all funding for primary health care. Supporting these front line GP services will take pressure of our hospitals.
This week we announced the second plank in our reform plans: to invest $632 million to train 6000 new doctors, the lifeblood of our health system.
This is just a taste of the Rudd Government’s comprehensive strategy to reform our health and hospital system, and there is more to be announced.
Last year the Opposition health spokesperson Peter Dutton said it all when talking about reform he remarked, “we have already spent the last twelve months working on a page.”
It’s going to take more than a single page to fix our health system. We have a comprehensive plan, backed by the AMA, Nurses Federation and Consumers Health Forum. This is the plan that will deliver Australians the better health and better hospitals that they deserve.
Today Mr Abbott must stop ducking and weaving and either back the Government’s comprehensive plan or reveal his mysterious alternative.
We can’t afford to risk handing our health system back to Tony Abbott. We need careful, considered reform, we need it now, and Mr Abbott’s record shows he’s simply not able to deliver on that need.
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