Budget must recognise value of better resourced health and social care
The Federal Budget must respond urgently to the health and economic lessons of the COVID pandemic and provide funding to ensure that care of elderly and low-income Australians is properly provided for, the Consumers Health Forum says.
“The pandemic has revealed many cracks in our society and economy including: the extent of casualisation of the workforce; growing income inequality; an inadequate income support system; and a digital divide which is leaving many people behind,” the CEO of CHF, Leanne Wells, said today.
Releasing CHF’s supplementary Budget submission, Ms Wells said: “It is those cracks that the 2020 Budget needs to start to address as they will widen and result in poorer health outcomes and even greater cost burden on health and human service systems if immediate action is not taken.
“The shocking plight experienced by so many aged care residents and staff and the tragic deaths that have resulted have caused great distress to the community, much of which could have been avoided with a better resourced and directed system.
“A central issue for aged care has been widespread casualisation and low wages --- a reality afflicting many Australians elsewhere and identified as a significant factor in the spread of COVID.
“The need for change is immediate and we urge the Government not to wait for that final Royal Commission report but to act now to address some of the issues with a detailed implementation plan.
“The Government yesterday announced a significant funding boost and much needed curbs on aged care staff working at more than one facility, and that is welcome. But much more is needed.
“The Interim Report of the Royal Commission highlighted areas which needed immediate attention from Government including more Home Care Packages and better medication management.
“The pandemic has shown serious deficiencies in the aged care system, in both residential aged care and the lack of provision of adequate homebased care to help avoid inappropriate admission to residential aged care.
“We need a longer-term vision for the health system and our society. The Federal Budget 2021 should lay out an agenda for the future including Government’s full response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care, the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health and the long awaited 10 year Primary Health Care Plan and the National Preventive Strategy.
“The pandemic experience has also magnified the need for more support for mental health care. The draft report from the Productivity Commission shows the scale of the problem, finding that those who seek help are not getting the necessary level of care and that many people are not accessing care due to stigma, cost and the complexity of the system. This highlights the need for substantial, long-term reform, which requires a significant investment of time, resources, and effort.
“CHF calls for the Government to make the expansion of Medicare-funded telehealth arrangements permanent and an integral part of the 10 Year Primary Health Plan.
“We also need to start planning for the next pandemic whilst dealing with the current one. Three key issues have emerged: the need for closer collaboration with States and Territories; the need to include aged care and disability services in any planning; and the need for consumers to be involved in the planning and implementation of the pandemic plan.
“We have slowly been moving to a more consumer-centred health care system in Australia with a growing acceptance that consumers need to be involved in the design and implementation of the health system.
“However, during the pandemic, the inclusion of consumers has been patchy as the need for urgent and decisive action reduced consultation and pushed consumers into being seen only as recipients of care rather than partners in the response.
“CHF has established a Consumer Commission to inquire into what the health system should look like beyond COVID-19. Thirty of the best consumer advocate minds in the country have been examining what reforms have been implemented through the pandemic that should be kept, where the fault lines are, and what the policy response should be.
“The CHF Consumer Commissioners felt that in many cases consumers have not been intrinsically involved despite being in a position to add value with their insights on the planning for the pandemic response. However, Queensland has been a standout in terms of fully engaging consumers through Health Consumers Queensland in identifying problems, communications with consumers and providing feedback from consumers with lived experience of COVID.
“There needs to be formal involvement of consumers in any national pandemic planning and this need to be adequately resourced to ensure the consumer s are available and able to eb responsive to rapidly changing demands,” Ms Wells said.