With the centrepiece of the government’s Federal Budget focusing on reforms to the aged care sector, several changes in the health portfolio flew under the radar.
As well as committing to increased aged care funding, there were significant announcements regarding mental health funding and preventative medicine. However a failing, according to many, was a lack of funding for purpose-built quarantine facilities and dental care.
The Budget included a $2.3 billion investment in the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, which included funding for a national network and up to 57 additional mental health treatment centres.
Health minister Greg Hunt said the mental health initiatives were more important than ever.
“Australians endured so much in 2020 – from the Black Summer bushfires, where many families and communities are continuing to rebuild, the COVID-19 pandemic that changed the very way we live our lives, to the floods of 2021,” he said.
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“The mental health toll on Australians both collectively and individually, has been a heavy one.
“In 2020, the Productivity Commission (PC) put the cost to the Australian economy of mental illness and suicide, conservatively, at up to $70 billion per year.
“Our government is focused on ensuring Australians are able to access affordable supports where and when they need them. We want a system that proactively reaches out to support people early in life and early in their experience of distress.”
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Chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said the Budget promises for mental health were only modest and it was yet to be seen if they were sufficient to address the deficiencies in that area.
“We’re told repeatedly that consumers experience disconnected services,” Ms Wells said. “We will be looking at how these services will integrate with existing arrangements. We can’t afford to risk further fragmenting of care.
“The critical issue for so many mental health patients is the often high out-of-pocket costs they face to get the treatment they need. A critical test will be whether these new services overcome this barrier.”
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As previously announced in the lead-up to the Budget, the government committed $204.6 million to extend Telehealth arrangements until the end of the year.
It also announced an investment of $250.9 million over four years for preventive health measures, including the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021–2030, which will assist Australians to improve their health and wellbeing and address early signs of disease.
One of the key investment is $125.9 million to improve cancer screening, including $6.9 million for five lung cancer care nurses to provide support to patients and their families and for lung cancer-related research activities; $32.8 million to support cervical screening programs, and $67.6 million for the BreastScreen Australia program.
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However, the Budget contained no funding for dental care, which was a key plank of both Labor and the Greens at the last federal election.
The president of the Australian Dental Association of NSW, Dr Kathleen Matthews, says a focus on aged care should have included some funding for dental priorities.
“More than six out of 10 over-75s in Australia suffer from gum disease, while more than one in three Australians aged 75 and over have complete tooth loss,” Dr Matthews said.
“The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard distressing evidence of older patients going without basic dental care such as tooth-brushing and denture cleaning.
“Sadly, the Budget has failed to address the oral health needs faced by older Australians.”
What do you think of the announcements for health included in last night’s Budget? Should the government have committed money for purpose-built quarantine facilities to stay on top of the pandemic? Should there have been more money for dental care?
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