The Federal Budget was handed down last night in Canberra, with the government trumpeting its commitment to investing in a stronger health system so that Australians have access to improved healthcare “when and where they need it”.
Health funding announcements included boosts to Medicare, hospitals and aged care, as well as access to more affordable medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and $4.2 billion to continue protecting Australians against COVID-19 through supply and access to vaccines and treatments, and support for the workforce.
While the government injected $49.5 million for aged care training, there was little to address chronic staff shortages and improved wages for aged care workers.
Here’s what nursing and health sector peaks had to say about the 2022 budget:
Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA)
AHHA says Australians would have been looking for an investment in health in last night’s budget, yet, were left short-changed. The pandemic has disrupted healthcare and exposed inequities in health over the past two years, with the impacts of missed opportunities for early diagnosis and treatment demanding longer-term funding and strategies.
“In this budget, resources towards catching up on the high numbers of patient for whom care was delayed should have been a given. Funding as a one-off boost to capacity for breast cancer, cervical screening and colonoscopy triage is welcomed, yet this only addresses one element of delayed care, with nothing further reflected in public hospital funding beyond recurrent spending and planned growth,” said Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Acting CEO Kylie Woolcock.
The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA)
While APNA President Karen Booth welcomed new funding commitments, such as nursing placements, she argued that they barely addressed the current issues with keeping Australians healthy, particularly an ageing PHC nurse workforce, overwhelming workloads, and a lack of available resources and nurses available to carry out vital preventative healthcare checks.
She said it was also uncertain whether Australia would have enough PHC nurses to cater for future health needs, with thousands of nursing students around the country unable to graduate because they couldn’t secure the clinical placement time in medical settings needed to qualify for their degree.
“One in four primary health care nurses already tell us they are leaving their jobs in the next couple of years, meaning we will have even less ability to keep Australia healthy in future decades. However, [the] Federal Budget does little to fix this issue,” Ms Booth said.
“If the Commonwealth could do one thing to help address this issue [not having enough suitably trained PHC nurses], it would be to establish a national nursing student placement scheme. Primary health care nurses desperately need extra help, and nursing students – many thousands of whom find themselves unable to get the clinical placement experience they need – are a ready-made solution.”
The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN)
Despite better support for vulnerable Australians, including early intervention activities, and improved mental health treatment, ACMHN said the Federal Budget does not give mental health nurses the recognition they deserve and fails to utilise their skills and expertise.
“The $18.3 spend on pathways to practice programs for nursing, allied health, and psychology students does not specifically identify mental health nurses as a specialty. Qualified MHNs are outstanding, highly skilled, and educated mental health clinicians. The government simply isn’t recognising that,” Interim President Professor John Hurley said.
Australian Aged Care Collaboration
The AACC, a group of six aged care peak bodies, said there was nothing in the budget to improve aged care wages, with the snub set to leave dedicated staff on the edge of poverty.
It said the budget confirmed the government’s inadequate response to the Aged Care Royal Commission.
“Since the start of the pandemic, aged care workers have gone above and beyond. They should be getting the pay they deserve and career certainty. The Royal Commission recognised this. It’s well overtime for the government to fix this once and for all.”
United Workers Union
The UWU argued that the government’s cash splash on one-off payments and tax offsets would do little to help young families in desperate need of childcare, nor vulnerable elderly residents living in aged care.
UWU aged care director Carolyn Smith said the announced $49.5 million aged care training funding over two years “wouldn’t even paper over the cracks” in a sector where 75% of aged care workers reported they wanted to leave the sector within five years.
“[The] Budget fiddles around the edges of the aged care crisis and the full-blown workforce crisis,” Ms Smith said.
“In home care and residential aged care, the Budget has no announcements that address low pay rates that leave workers with barely enough to live on, working multiple jobs to feed themselves and their families.
“In residential aged care the Budget fails to address the widespread understaffing that leaves aged care workers rushing to provide even the most basic levels of care to older Australians who deserve much better.”
Consumers Health Forum of Australia
The CHF welcomed the budget as a solid step towards continued investment in healthcare for Australians. Highlights for health consumers included targeted cost of living measures to make medicines more affordable, significant investments in mental health services, and permanency of Medicare subsidised telehealth, they said.
“Lowering the PBS Safety Net eligibility threshold for both concessional and non-concessional patients is a long-standing initiative advocated by CHF and will improve outcomes for people who have chronic conditions or multiple prescription needs,” CHF CEO Leanne Wells said.
“Young people have experienced unprecedented psychological distress in association with the pandemic. Support for critical community-based services like Lifeline, the Early Psychosis Youth Services, headspace and new eating disorder treatment clinics will make a real difference, although more investment is always warranted.”
Australian Medical Association
The AMA said claims of record spending on health in last night’s Federal Budget masked a failure to tackle stress in the health system. However, they welcomed continued spending on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Medicare and hospital funding in tonight’s Budget amounts to little more than usual recurrent spending and planned growth, not the new injection of funds our health system desperately needs,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said.
“Pleased as we are to see tonight’s Budget finally acknowledge the Ten-Year Plan for Primary Care, we can see no plan for how its implementation will be funded.
“This Budget was the last chance for the government to show it is serious about primary care reform by delivering the extra funding needed to improve patient access to high quality General Practice.
“While the Health portfolio has been spared funding cuts, the government’s focus on cost of living has overlooked quality of life, particularly for the thousands of Australians languishing on hospital waiting lists,” Dr Khorshid said.