Outpaced only by the political parties themselves, lobby groups were quick off the mark to publicise their ‘wish lists’ in the lead up to the September 7 Federal Election.
In the vanguard were some of the nation’s main health advocacy bodies, not least the AMA, no stranger to the media game. In its policy paper Key Health Issues for Federal Election, the AMA cited research showing voters rated the quality of the heath system as their second most important issue (after the state of the economy).
Federal AMA President Steve Hambleton urged the ‘resuscitation’ of health reform lest Australians “find it more and more difficult to get access to quality affordable health care – where and when they need it.”
Dr Hambleton said, “Planning is needed to allow primary care, led by general practice, to cope with the growing demands of chronic disease in the community.”
He added, “The complete pipeline of medical training needs to be properly funded to ensure we have a medical workforce in sufficient numbers to meet future community need….
“Money should be going to Primary Care Infrastructure Grants, not GP Super Clinics. The Grants are delivering real benefits to general practices and their local communities. The Super Clinics are a bad idea that is wasting valuable health dollars.”
Specifically, the AMA advocated that, “The next Government must increase funding to GP infrastructure grants by an additional 600 grants at the level of the existing grants (on average approximately $300,000 each) at a total cost of $180 million. This would enable a third round of GP infrastructure grants.”
The AMA’s position on Rural Health was listed as follows –
To attract and retain a medical workforce with the right skill set for rural practice, the next Government must:
provide a dedicated quality training pathway with the right skill mix to ensure GPs are adequately trained to work in rural areas, and by developing and implementing, in consultation with the AMA and specialist colleges, a new funding program to support and encourage more ‘generalist’ training;
provide financial incentives to ensure competitive remuneration for rural doctors by implementing the AMA/RDAA Rural Rescue Package, which would provide further enhancements to rural isolation payments and rural procedural and emergency/on-call loadings;
extend the MBS video consultation items to GP consultations for remote Indigenous Australians, aged care residents, people with mobility problems, and rural people who live some distance from GPs. This will considerably improve access to medical care for these groups and improve health outcomes;
replace the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC-RA) and the Districts of Workforce Shortage (DWS) system, which are so inequitable for many rural areas, with a more comprehensive model that provides a more accurate picture of workforce conditions for administering relocation payments, and providing incentive and retention payments; and
improve the effectiveness of the Bonded Medical Places Scheme by providing more flexibility for Bonded Medical Graduates to allow them to complete return of service obligations in any rural area, not just a DWS.
Also quick off the mark was the National Rural Health Alliance with its document, Shining a Light on Rural and Regional Health.
Launched in Canberra on 14 August by outgoing New England MP Tony Windsor, the policy stressed the importance of servicing local health needs, including rural training pathways, strengthening Medicare Locals (“by whatever name,” it added, perhaps presciently), and assured capacity for DisabilityCare Australia.
It singled out mental health, oral health, the needs of older people – ‘Living Longer, Living Better’ – bipartisan support for Closing the Gap on health disparities, and the importance of capacity building in rural economies.
“A strong sustainable health sector in rural areas is a key part of the economic base of rural and remote areas,” the policy stated, “not just a prerequisite for human rights and service equity.”