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$150 million and tough new Medicare agreements to attack waiting lists

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Dr Carmen Lawrence Minister for Human Services and Health Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women

CL57/96 ' 1 “·

6 February 1996


The Federal Government will provide an immediate injection of $150 million over the next two years to cut waiting times for elective surgery.

The Federal Minister for Human Services and Health, Carmen Lawrence, said the funds would be provided directly to the States and Territories as part of a two pronged effort to make sure patients don’t wait longer than their doctor recommends.

"For their part, the States will have to commit to targets set by the Commonwealth on such -things as the number of patients treated, waiting times and the quality of care as measured by the number of readmissions.

In addition. Dr Lawrence said that the Commonwealth plans to re-negotiate all the Medicare Agreements as a matter of urgency.

"Although the Commonwealth give S4.5 billion a year to the States to provide free patient care in public hospitals, the Commonwealth can’t use the existing Agreements to insist that the States maintain hospital funding or that objectives such as reducing waiting times are achieved.

"Since 1991-1992 the Commonwealth has increased its public hospital funding to state governments by an annual amount of $800 million.

"In the corresponding period, State governments have cut their own spending on hospitals by $700 million per year.

"The result has been that the extra Commonwealth funds have not improved services or cut waiting times as they should."

Dr Lawrence said that this w'as the true cause of lengthy waiting times, not the decline in private health insurance membership which accounted for one third of one per cent of hospitals' total costs.

"It is no coincidence that people are most concerned about waiting times in Victoria. South Australia and Western Australia. In those States the Kennett, Brown and Court Governments have cut $275 million, $30 million and $98 million respectively from their Suite's hospitals in just two years, without one word from John Howard. Λ ^ n

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"In contrast the Carr Government in New South Wales has proved that by restoring funds, real reductions in waiting times can be achieved."

Dr Lawrence said the new Medicare Agreements would be tough but fair and would also:

* remove the incentive for State Governments to shift costs to patients or other levels of Government;

* ensure that public hospital buildings and equipment are kept up to date;

* protect public hospitals' teaching and research roles; and

* recognise the links between hospitals and other services such as general practice, nursing homes and home and community care services.

"The new Agreements would also enable a Federal Labor Government to stop a State introducing patient charges in public hospitals such as is being considered by the Kennett Government in Victoria," Dr Lawrence said.

Dr Lawrence said there would also be an independent Hospital Authority established to monitor and audit public hospital services.

"The Authority will include Commonwealth, State and consumer representatives as well as independent expert members.

"It is my hope that the Authority will be a watchdog that helps restore confidence in our public hospitals by providing independent and reliable information about their performance."

Dr Lawrence said the initiatives would be of greatest relief to older Australians.

"Older people will benefit most from these improvements because they are the highest users of hospital services and are therefore more likely to wait longer than clinically recommended.

"These initiatives are a significant step towards achieving that goal.”

Media Contact: Brenda Conroy 0412 414 781