Health policy takes the spotlight again as political parties hit the middle of the first week of the election campaign, which is emerging as a major battleground during election following two years of intense focus on the state of the health system during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Australian Labor Party has promised $135 million to trial what it has called ‘urgent care clinics’, which is a concept that has been running in New Zealand. They are designed to reduce pressure on the hospital system.
Addressing nurses and midwives in Melbourne Wednesday morning, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Australia had to improve the system for the health of the nation, for the economy, and for frontline health workers.”
“A proper health care system cannot be everything it can be until the hardworking healthcare workers of this country have a proper partner in government,” he said.
Specifically on care clinics, Shadow health minister Mark Butler said earlier: “When your family needs support, the Medicare urgent care clinics will be open seven days a week from at least 8am to 10pm to treat things like sprains and broken bones. The care will be bulk billed, so families won’t be out-of-pocket,”
This proposal follows what have been a series of Labor promises on health issues, such as $31 million in funding to provide greater access to psychiatric services via telehealth for regional and rural people.
The opposition has also announced a total of $6.5 million in funding for child hearing services provided by Shepherd Centers, a provider of hearing services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Urgent care clinics have been supported by the Australian Doctors Reform Society.
“Labor’s proposal to support GPs to treat patients in extended hours clinics will be welcomed by many GPs and reduce waiting times in hospital emergency departments,” Dr Robert Marr, the secretary-general of the Australian Doctors Reform Society, said.
“Unfortunately, many Australians are using hospital emergency departments for problems that could be managed by GPs for a number of reasons, including lack of access to GPs after hours; according to the Royal College of GPs only 60% of GP consultations are bulk billed.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has also bought into the campaign discourse on boosting health services, and it has a wish list for political parties to consider.
Its list of things for politicians to look at includes but is not limited to the provision of increased Medicare rebates for patients who must see a doctor for longer appointments, retaining telehealth rebates for patients to have longer appointments with their GP, and a service incentive program to provide regular preventative care for older people.
Labor has also confirmed that its long-held plan to review JobSeeker payments is no longer a priority.