Australia’s health care system is one of the most envied in the world.
For the most part it is accessible, affordable, efficient and effective and, most importantly, outcomes for patients are in the vast majority of cases, excellent.
The doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who make up the health sector provide us with those excellent outcomes, and for this they have much to be proud of.
Yes, there are challenges to be met, and the question facing us all is how we meet them, how we defeat them, and how we continue to provide world’s best health outcomes.
The choice is stark.
On one hand there is unending talk of “reform” from the Rudd–Gillard government and on the other, there are concrete coalition proposals for direct action to address problems in the health system.
From the coalition, the health sector will get a “beds and boards” action plan for acute care in hospitals, a boost for GP services and Medicare in the primary care sector, and incentives to open much-needed beds in the aged care sector.
Boards for hospitals will involve the community and clinicians — the very people who know what’s happening at the coalface and what’s needed to make it better — in decision-making positions with the ability to again influence health care outcomes.
An additional 2800 mental health and hospital beds and 3000 in the aged care sector will help to end the pressure on emergency departments and the “bed-block” that so bedevils our public hospitals.
Increased funding for Medicare rebates for after hours services, chronic and complex care, practice nurses and funding for GP infrastructure will likewise expand services in primary care and relieve the pressure on hospital services.
In contrast, Labor supports a complex set of so-called hospital funding “reforms”, via a claw-back of the GST, ranging from more federal payments to states, who remain in control of the system (little more than accounting trickery), to unspecified changes in responsibilities in primary, aged and community care sectors.
Further, Labor advocates a shift to GP “super clinics” in competition with established GP practices, patient enrolment and capitation funding, rather than the time-tested fee-for-service approach that out system currently relies on.
And all the time, there is more bureaucracy and more red tape.
The coalition sees a system that for all its faults, mostly works; a system that should be supported and strengthened.
Rudd–Gillard Labor sees a system that needs more bureaucracy at the top and more red tape at the bottom.
The health sector has much at stake at this election.
Peter Dutton is the federal member for Dixon and shadow minister for health and ageing.