Labor’s ambitious health agenda
Easier patient access to GPs and reduced pressure on hospital emergency departments are among a host of healthcare improvements promised under the incoming Labor federal government.
“Every day, everywhere I go, people talk to me about how it’s getting more and more difficult to see a doctor,” said Anthony Albanese during the election campaign.
Federal Labor comes to office promising to spend $750 million over three years on a “Strengthening Medicare” fund to roll out from 2023–24.
The fund will aim to improve patient access to GPs, particularly after hours. It includes Medicare Urgent Care Clinics as part of a trial of a new model of care.
The ALP also promised a $220 million grants program to upgrade local GP practices.
In summary, Labor’s healthcare promises include:
Medicare Urgent Care Clinics
Labor will deliver “at least 50” Medicare Urgent Care Clinics (MUCCs) across Australia, in a trial based on a similar New Zealand program.
Designed to take the pressure off hospital emergency departments, MUCCs will be located in the same general areas as EDs and will bulk bill.
Labor says that in 2020–21, 47 per cent of ED presentations were classified as either semi-urgent or non-urgent and could therefore have been addressed by doctors and nurses in MUCCs.
Labor says that “almost a decade of Liberal neglect” has left primary care in crisis, particularly in outer suburbs and regional and rural communities.
Labor will give grants of up to $50,000 for GPs to train staff, upgrade IT telehealth systems, buy equipment and improve ventilation and infection control.
It will also boost workforce incentives for rural and regional GPs to hire nurses and allied health professionals and provide multidisciplinary team-based care.
National Nurse and Midwife Health Service
Labor wants to establish a coun-selling and referral service to help nurses and midwives who are “concerned about their stress levels, feel exhausted or anxious, or who are struggling with their mental health.”
Labor will spend $23 million to set up a National Nurse and Midwife Health Service.
It will provide free and confidential support, “delivered by nurses for nurses”, with information, advice, treatment and specialist referrals.
Labor says Victoria’s successful Nursing and Midwifery Health Program has been inundated with calls from nurses struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, after working beyond exhaustion.
It wants to expand such a service nationally, because “we can’t afford to lose more nurses because of unnecessary burn-out”.
National Melanoma Nurse Network
Melanomas kill one Australian every six hours and Labor wants to reduce the toll by giving more people early advice and better continuity of care from a melanoma nurse.
The Melanoma Institute of Australia has melanoma nurse programs in Sydney, Wagga Wagga, Perth and Hobart. Under Labor, this service will be expanded nationwide, with up to 35 more melanoma nurses by early 2025.
Telehealth support will also be available, “to make sure no one misses out based on where they live.”
Better First Nations Australians health care
Labor promises to train 500 new First Nations health workers, increase access to lifesaving dialysis treatment for First Nations Australians with chronic kidney disease, and expand efforts to eradicate rheumatic heart disease in remote communities.
The ALP says First Nations Australians are five times more likely to die from rheumatic heart disease, four times as likely to have kidney disease and more than twice as likely to die from suicide in youth.
It says it will work with community-controlled and other health services to help close this gap.
Promised measures include a First Nations Health Worker Traineeship Program to support up to 500 trainees to complete Certificate III or IV accredited training.
Millions of Australians will save $12.50 on medical scripts under Labor.
Labor has committed to reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) co-payment from the current maximum of $42.50 per script, to a maximum of $30 per script.
The changes to the PBS will take effect from 1 January 2023.
Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
An additional 50,000 Australians will be eligible for a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card from 1 July 2022.
The income test for access to the card will increase to $90,000 a year for singles (up from $57,761) and to $144,000 a year for couples (up from $92,416).
With a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, you may get cheaper medicine under the PBS and other benefits.
Expanded newborn health screening
Australia hasn’t updated its newborn screening program since the 1980s and Labor says children consequently are going without treatment despite tests being available.
Labor promises to “end the newborn health screening lottery” by increasing the number of screened conditions from around 25 to 80.
The program is aimed at identifying a wider range of genetic and other early life conditions that are the leading cause of death for young girls and the third highest cause of death for boys.
Regional mental telehealth services
During the COVID pandemic, the Morrison government abolished Medicare Benefits Schedule item 288, a 50 per cent loading for videoconference consultations in telehealth-eligible areas in Australia.
Labor says this effectively ceased bulk-billed psychiatric consultations for patients in regional and rural areas and will reinstate the 50 per cent loading.