Time for new regime to address the state's health care at last

Time for new regime to address the state's health care at last

With the federal election over, Tasmania will look to newly minted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor Government to deliver on its promises and get to work on the issues the electorate wants tackled as priorities.

As The Examiner reported prior to the election, one of the biggest issues identified by its readers was health care.

On that score, it was pleasing to see the ALP and the Liberal Party both commit during the campaign to deliver funding for the Clifford Craig research and innovation centre. This supports the memorandum of understanding funding commitment from the State Government, and all but guarantees this much-needed facility can be developed and operate.

Through this funding, the Clifford Craig Foundation will be able to enshrine Northern Tasmania as a medical research hub. A state-of-the-art medical research and innovation centre will attract medical professionals keen to further research in their chosen fields, bringing exceptional medical skills into our community. This will not only benefit the patients they treat, but will help teach the next generation of doctors, specialists, and other medical professionals. Importantly, their health leadership will drive better policies and better models of care.
There is no doubt that a number of Tasmanian seats feature prominently in federal elections. Bass, Braddon and Lyons were all key marginal battlegrounds and saw plenty of pollie and media attention during the campaign.

But just because the national media packs have headed home and the election spotlight has been switched off, it is not the time for the incoming government to forget about the issues that remain important to Northern Tasmanians.

Access to health care in regional areas remains a pressing issue for both state and federal governments across the country, and the regional areas of Tasmania are no different. It is no secret that people in regional areas are not just sicker, but have lower life expectancies than people in metropolitan centres.

This is a significant challenge for Mr Albanese’s government, which will need to carefully examine all options to deliver health care to regional areas, like Northern and North-West Tasmania, to ensure equitable health outcomes.

Labor’s commitment to establish and trial 50 urgent care clinics across the country, including one in both Launceston and Burnie will no doubt be warmly welcomed by anyone who has had to wait hours to access care in overcrowded emergency departments. There is no doubt that taking pressure off our acute public hospital system is of paramount importance when it comes to removing barriers to accessing timely care, and although the details of how such clinics will operate are not yet finalised, these clinics should help to improve a critical area of care.

However, to ensure long-term improvements to health care, governments, including this new one, must be brave and set their sights on fundamental reforms to improve the entire health system, not just one part of it.

I have previously argued that serious reforms need to be made by the federal government to help the private health sector take as much pressure as it can from the public system, and ultimately, deliver better health care for all Tasmanians, regardless of whether they are among the one-in-two who have private health insurance or not. This includes allowing insurers to fund procedures beyond acute hospital settings and stopping Australians having to pay some of the highest prices in the world for medical devices. Both these measures won’t cost the federal government a cent, yet would play a vital role in keeping people in the private health system and lessening pressure on the public system, as would restoring the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate for low- and middle-income earners.

St.LukesHealth will continue to lobby for the federal government to make systemic reforms to take pressure off our public hospitals. I’m pleased we, as an organisation, were able to have some conversations with candidates during the election, and look forward to presenting our ideas to incoming ministers and shadow ministers to help improve health outcomes for all Tasmanians.

Every incoming government has an over-riding mandate regardless of their policy platform and promises; that is, to make our communities and country better places for everyone. Mr Albanese’s opportunity to do that starts now. Amidst all the competing priorities he will no doubt have to manage in the coming weeks, I sincerely hope improving regional health care is at the top of his list.

Paul Lupo, CEO St.LukesHealth