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Subacute care funding in the firing line

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Recent enhancements to subacute care services are threatened due to the uncertain future of federal–state funding agreements

The term “subacute” was coined for use in Australia 21 years ago to describe health care where the patient’s need for care is driven predominantly by his or her functional status rather than principal diagnosis.1 Subacute care includes rehabilitation, palliative care, geriatric evaluation and management, and psychogeriatrics. Rehabilitation represents more than 50% of all subacute hospital care in Australia.2

The past two decades have seen slow growth in subacute care. However, the public sector was given substantial momentum in recent years through two National Partnership Agreements (NPAs) between the federal government and the state and territory governments, negotiated by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) — the Hospital and Health Workforce Reform (HHWR) NPA and the Improving Public Hospital Services (IPHS) NPA. Both NPAs aimed to “improve efficiency and capacity in public hospitals”.3

The 5-year HHWR NPA was signed in 2008 and, of the total funding of $3042 million negotiated under this agreement, $1383 million was provided by the federal government to the states and territories. This consisted of $133.41 million for activity-based funding…