Federal Budget a failed opportunity to improve access to allied health care

Allied Health Professions Australia (AHPA) and its members are deeply disappointed by the latest Federal Budget, which has again failed to provide urgently needed improvements to the accessibility of allied health services for Australian health consumers. Despite the continued growth of Australia’s chronic disease burden and the deep inequity in the impact of chronic conditions on Indigenous Australians, rural and remote communities and low income earners, this Budget has failed to provide the leadership and reform we need to begin providing genuinely universal access to health care.

A stronger primary care sector benefits all Australians and we welcome investment that provides better care. However, primary care is more than just general practice. Australians need access to genuine multidisciplinary primary care interventions to address chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke, chronic musculoskeletal issues and mental ill-health. This Budget fails to deliver that, providing no meaningful investment in allied health care. While an investment of $448.5 million will see older Australians with chronic diseases enrolled in the next iteration of the Health Care Homes program, that funding continues to exclude allied health, providing no mechanism to access the follow-on services those consumers need.

Similarly, while the Government has pledged significant funding for Medicare this investment fails to provide any real increase in access in non-medical care. This is likely to further exacerbate our current health inequities and ignores the recommendations of a wide range of clinical committees and reference groups participating in the Medicare Review process. While the Review process continues, this Budget could have provided a means of signalling future reforms through pilot programs or the implementation of smaller initial reforms.

Despite our disappointment, there are some positives in this Budget. We welcome the range of initiatives focused on older people living in the community and in residential aged care. We are particularly pleased to see that the Government will fund a trial of new residential aged care funding. A number of trials have shown that the Aged Care Funding Instrument is not providing access to important allied health services that can significantly impact the mental and physical health and wellbeing of older people living in residential aged care and we hope to see significant improvements through these trials. We also welcome the recognition of the important role of pharmacists in reducing medication related harm for aged care residents through new education work and improved access to pharmacists in aged care facilities.

We also acknowledge the wide range of Budget initiatives that will see increased investment in mental health services. This includes a number of programs focused on youth mental health and suicide prevention as well as urgently needed Community Mental Health Centres and Residential Eating Disorders Centres. While further investment and reform is needed to support Australians with mental illnesses, these programs provide important opportunities to increase access to a range of essential services.

We welcome also welcome the following Budget initiatives:

  • An investment of $10 million to support the Lowitja Institute to undertake research to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Continued investment into My Health Record that we hope will support improved access to conformant systems for the allied health sector.
  • Continued funding for the Health Star Rating system is welcomed but only part of what will be required to address the impact of diet on population health outcomes.

With the Federal Election looming, we challenge both sides of Government to put an increased focus on prevention and increasing access to non-medical care. Only then will we start to see improvements in some of biggest areas of disease burden.

For further information on the Budget initiatives announced yesterday, please visit: https://www.budget.gov.au/.

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