The Federal Government’s release of the Budget 2018-19 disclosed investments into health policy areas that were expected and others that were not so obvious.

In response to a series of incidents reported in the media regarding the care of people in residential aged care facilities, a number of measures in efforts to reforming aged care include:

  • From 1 January 2019, a new and independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission – a culmination of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner and the Department of Health’s aged care regulatory functions – will be managing all complaints;
  • Development of a performance rating for residential aged care service providers against new quality standards; and
  • Increased investments into mental health services in in residential aged care facilities to relieve mental health issues such as loneliness, depression and loss of independence.

The increased funding for 14,000 additional high-level home care packages to assist older Australians choosing to stay at home is welcome news, however over 100,000 people waiting, so much more needs to be done to provide for the figures at present.

In other health areas, preventative care was acknowledged with initiatives such as:

  • Free of charge whooping cough vaccinations for all pregnant women;
  • Subsidised 3D breast cancer screenings for more than 200,000 from November; and
  • Funding to Medicare-supported MRI scans for prostate cancer checks.

The lack of any concrete action on dental health – which has once again been overlooked – is concerning as it has been allowed to slip down health budget priorities, despite its proven benefits in preventing large health bills later.

The highlight of this Budget for ACN was the number of promising figures that were given to support the nursing workforce:

  • The health of people living in rural, regional and remote Australia will improve and benefit from an extra 3,000 nurses;
  • Exploring nurse-led models of care to deliver primary health care in order to support the nursing workforce;
  • An independent review of the current nursing education and preparation courses which will explore improvements to the system and consider factors that affect nurses entering the nursing workforce; and
  • Investments into a mental health nurse-led service focused on reducing mental health impacts of social isolation for Australians aged 75 years and over.

ACN welcomes the efforts that the Australian Government has made to improve retention rates of nurses, particularly by establishing a review that will examine what issues face students upon entering the workforce. Investment in workforce development, particularly in rural Australia, is pleasing to see, but this is only one part of the jigsaw puzzle.

ACN would strongly advocate that consultation with established leaders and experts in this field occurs – namely nurses who have worked in the sector for a number of years and are able to provide first-hand accounts of their experiences, must be involved in the conversation to inform Government.

The Federal Government’s omission of university funding and reservation on the capping of university placements is also hindering the next generation of nurses to succeed in the workforce. The Victorian budget announced that the Diploma of Nursing would be one of the TAFE courses provided free of charge for eligible students, a tactic that would be wholly welcomed in the nursing community.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) was promised substantial funding to improve accessibility to health information and statistics, including better data sharing capabilities and information and communications technology upgrades. This will be a welcome building block for much-needed reform of the system because in order to approach better health care planning, we need to have an accurate picture of what is going on now and treat it as a baseline.

Other community services have been largely overlooked, and there is no commitment in the Budget to meaningful reform of the health and community services workforce to best deliver integrated care.

A national workforce strategy in aged care was another approach that was disregarded in the latest Federal Budget. Much more needs to be done to develop a workforce that will support the needs of an ageing population and be fit for purpose for the health system’s needs.

ACN is interested to see how the health landscape and patient safety in Australia is shaped by the Federal Budget 2018-19.

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