Australia’s federal centre-left Labor government has agreed to extend the current COVID-19 health funding arrangement for states until the end of the year, meaning the 50-50 funding commitment between the states and Commonwealth, due to expire at the end of September, will remain in place.
This means that the federal government will be contributing an extra $760 million towards supporting Australia’s state and territory health systems.
The decision was announced at the first cabinet meeting of the new government and came after state premiers and chief ministers unanimously called for the continued commitment to state health funding by the federal government, due to ongoing pressures on the hospital systems in their respective states and territories.
Speaking to reporters alongside state and territory leaders on Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called the discussions a success.
“It was conducted in a very good spirit, a spirit of engagement, one that recognised our common interests and our common purpose to serve people in our respective states and territories,” he said.
“There was a focus, of course, on the response to the health pandemic, which we know is ongoing, and in recognition of the pressure that health and hospitals continue to be under, the Commonwealth has agreed to extend the COVID funding arrangements until the 30th of December this year.”
A shortage of nurses and other health staff, full emergency departments and subsequent ambulance ramping, as well as catching up on elective surgeries that were postponed due to the pandemic are among the reasons health systems across the nation are stretched.
Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was a refreshing change to discuss health, noting that the topic had been previously hard to get on the agenda.
“So we absolutely are united in this and we welcome the extra funding today,” she said.
Meanwhile, New South wales Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet also welcomed the federal funding and the news that health reform is in the pipeline.
“This is something we’ve been discussing at National Cabinet for some time, so to have the first meeting today and for this matter to be resolved to some degree, to be extended to December, I think is incredibly welcome and was supported by every state premier and chief minister,” he said.
Perrottet said it was also pleasing that the prime minister was focused on working with the states and territories toward significant health reform.
“This is something that’s been in the too-hard basket for too long,” he said.
“The lack of integration between the GP network and primary care and the public health system is a challenge that every jurisdiction is facing, and working closely with the Commonwealth government, I think there’s great opportunity for substantive reform in that space.”
Albanese said that Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet head Glenn Davis will conduct a review of health funding and arrangements, with a view towards health reform.
“What that’s about isn’t necesarily about additional dollars,,” he said, adding it’s about recognising that there are people in the hospital system who should be under the care of their local GP, but GPs aren’t available.
“That the lack of nurses and health professionals in the aged care system means that many people who should either be looked after at home or looked after as aged care residents end up in the hospital system as well, putting further pressure on the system.”
Albanese said that regarding the implementation of measures promised at the election to take the pressure off emergency departments, such as emergency care clinics, his government will co-operate with the states, including where they are located.
When asked about whether funding for the states would continue beyond December if people were still being hospitalised with COVID-19, Albanese said a decision about December can’t be made in June.
“It means we’re responding specificaly to the circumstances which are there, the pressures on the state and territory health systems,” he said.