An emergency sign at a hospital (file image)
States and territories say urgent funding is needed from the Commonwealth for the health system. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Funding plea as health system faces ‘national crisis’

Kat Wong June 14, 2024

Australians are arriving at hospitals sicker as the health system buckles under years of decline, prompting states and territories to demand more money from the federal government.

“Everywhere in Australia, the health system is under pressure,” a letter from eight health ministers to the Commonwealth reads, describing the situation as a “national crisis”.

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

GP signage (file image)
 States want the federal government to increase GP bulk billing incentives. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

General practice had been steadily declining for the past decade, their 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 National Disability Insurance Scheme (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.”

NSW Health Minister Ryan Park (file image)
 NSW Health Minister Ryan Park says a lack of access to primary care is making people sicker. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

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

They are 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 receives about 38 per cent of hospital funding from the Commonwealth and there has been an agreement to increase that to 45 per cent over 10 years.

“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.

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

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
 Anthony Albanese says national cabinet is working to strengthen Australia’s health system. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS 

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.