Ministers unite to demand better response to ‘national crisis’ in health

Australians are getting sicker and paying more for doctors appointments as GPs become harder to access and hospitals stretch beyond their limits.

Jun 14, 2024, updated Jun 14, 2024
The ministers' letter said it was becoming harder for Australians to get primary health care when they needed it. (Image: Unsplash)

The ministers' letter said it was becoming harder for Australians to get primary health care when they needed it. (Image: Unsplash)

Health ministers from every state and territory say it is time for the federal government to intervene, releasing an open letter to the Commonwealth on Friday.

“Everywhere in Australia, the health system is under pressure,” the letter from the eight ministers reads.

As winter rolls across the nation, diseases such as Covid-19, the flu and RSV are weighing on already-strained health systems.

General practice has been steadily declining for the past decade, the letter said, with fewer new doctors training to become GPs.

“This means Australians are finding it harder to get primary care when they need it,” the ministers wrote.

“Because of that, people get sicker and end up in hospital longer.”

Australians waiting for support from the NDIS, in-home care packages or federal government-funded aged care facilities are also stuck for weeks in hospital beds.

“We recognise that the situation has been exacerbated by a decade of freezing Medicare rates and aged care underfunding,” the letter said.

“But there is more that can be done and needs to be done to tackle this national crisis.”

The ministers want the federal government to further increase GP Medicare bulk billing incentives and lift restrictions that limit the number of medical school places.

They are also urging the Commonwealth to implement a new agreement that would deliver 45 per cent minimum funding for each person treated in public hospitals and a program to require aged care providers to support eligible patients stuck in hospitals.

The NSW government currently receives about 38 per cent of hospital funding from the federal government and there has been an agreement to increase that to 45 per cent over 10 years.

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“Now, we’re not even close to getting that … we’ve essentially been told that these discussions have to pause and wait,” NSW Health Minister Ryan Park told ABC Radio.

“Our hospitals are experiencing record admissions, our emergency departments are experiencing record admissions, and people are presenting sicker because they can’t access GP and primary care in the community.

“We really need some support sooner rather than later.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has defended directing federal Health Minister Mark Butler to pause hospital funding during NDIS reform negotiations.

“We want to make sure, with state and territory governments, that we move forward on the reform program,” Mr Albanese told reporters on Friday.

“We need to continue to strengthen Medicare … and we need to continue to ensure that the NDIS is sustainable going forward so that people with disabilities get the support and help they need.

“That is what we are doing through the national cabinet process.”

The federal government is attempting to rein in NDIS spending as costs are expected to surge to $50 billion by 2025/26 – higher than the annual bill for Medicare.

But in March, state and territory leaders revolted over fears NDIS reforms would lead Australians to seek state support at a cost unknown to governments.

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