Australia’s Labor budget deals a triple blow to public hospitals

Despite a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Albanian government’s first budget, presented on Tuesday, contains a devastating cut to the country’s already overstretched and underfunded public hospitals.

Budget documents reveal that payments to states and territories for public hospitals are set to decline by more than $755 million this fiscal year and $2.4 billion over four years.

Australia’s Labor government budget drastically cuts health funding. [Photo: Australian National Audit Office]

The devastating impact of this cut on beleaguered public hospitals, overworked healthcare staff and often critically ill patients will be compounded by two other budget decisions. The first is to end the federal government’s 50% contribution to hospital budgets during the pandemic, reducing its share to 45% by December 31.

The other is to simultaneously reimpose a 6.5% annual cap on federal hospital funding. This is under conditions where the official inflation rate has just reached 7.3% and is now expected to exceed 8% by the end of the year.

The costs of medical services (“medical inflation”) are rising even faster. Earlier this year, the Victorian Healthcare Association revealed that inflation would cut that state’s healthcare budget by more than 13% in real terms this financial year, leaving doctors warning of worse patient outcomes at a record time of demand.

Australian governments have imposed a profit-driven ‘let it rip’ COVID regime on the people, resulting in more than 13,000 deaths this year, at least ten million infections and hundreds of thousands facing the prospect of death. a long debilitating COVID and other life-threatening ones. -long medical conditions.

Now, led by the federal Labor government, they are stepping up the assault on the public health system, defying strikes and protests by nurses and other health care workers over intolerable workloads, low wages and wage cuts real.

The crisis ravaging public hospitals will intensify, with beds at full capacity, ambulances crawling past emergency departments, patients waiting years for essential elective surgery and health workers suffering from extreme stress, d burnout and burnout.

This is one of the deepest attacks on working class living and social conditions contained in the Labor Party budget, in addition to soaring prices for electricity, gas, gasoline and food, soaring interest rates and mortgage repayments, at least two more years of real wage cuts and about 150,000 job losses over the same period.

Public hospitals were severely underfunded long before the pandemic, but the COVID disaster has taken the breakdown to a new level. There is mounting evidence that the next wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths has begun, fueled by the novel coronavirus mutations that capitalist governments have allowed to proliferate around the world.

Officially recorded COVID-19 infections in Victoria, the second most populous state, jumped 25% in the past week. That’s a vast understatement, as the Labor-majority ‘national cabinet’ of federal, state and territory leaders has scrapped most testing, notification and isolation requirements, making it nearly impossible to know how many repeat infections are circulating.

In the same week, less than 64% of critical Code 1 ambulance calls in Victoria were answered within 15 minutes, down from 73% in 2014. Ambulance Victoria acknowledged that in regional areas only 56% calls were answered within the 15-minute time frame. target.

In every way, from wait times to delays in medical assistance and excess deaths, the public health care system is facing its biggest crisis in 80 years. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) Public Hospital Bulletin 2022 said:

“More than one in three people will wait longer than the clinically recommended 30 minutes to receive emergency care. One in three people presenting to an emergency department [Emergency Department] will wait more than four hours to be released or admitted…

“The situation is even worse when it comes to elective surgery… in the 2020-2021 reporting period, for category 2 elective surgery – procedures such as heart valve replacement or coronary bypass surgery, one patient in three waited longer than the clinically indicated 90 days, a 17% drop in performance since 2016-17.

Nurses demonstrate in Westmead, western Sydney on July 18, 2022 [Photo: WSWS]

The AMA and other health groups condemned the $2.4 billion budget cut. AMA Chairman Professor Stephen Robson said: “The AMA is amazed that this decrease is expected at a time when demand for hospital services is at an all-time high.”

As Robson pointed out, the supposed reduction in demand is actually based on hospitals running out of staff and beds to deal with unmet need. This situation has been exacerbated by people delaying seeking treatment or being forced to postpone procedures due to the deadly impact of the pandemic.

Under the ‘casemix’ funding system, hospitals are only paid for the procedures and other ‘activities’ they perform, not those they cannot perform due to acute staff shortages. and financing.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler outright defended the cuts, accusing the AMA of a “misunderstanding about how hospitals are funded”. These “arrangements” were put in place, he boasted, by the Rudd-Gillard Labor government of 2007-2013 and continued by subsequent Liberal-National coalition governments.

The casemix model abolished the old system of financing hospitals based on estimated community needs. By paying for the “activities” delivered, the casemix system is a formula for exploiting the inability of public hospitals to meet unmet needs.

The Labor Party budget also inflicted further cuts to public health, including cutting federal funding for a host of COVID-related services, such as vaccines and treatments, as well as PCR and rapid antigen tests.

After a virtual decade-long freeze, the government has refused to increase Medicare reimbursements for doctors. There has also been no increase in remuneration for longer consultations, nor a reinstatement of longer telephone consultations.

This compression of discounts is increasingly pushing doctors, including GPs, to end bundled billing and require patients to pay upfront for medical advice and services. This in turn increases pressure on public hospital emergency departments, where people go to avoid such bills, which they cannot afford.

Funding for 10 additional Medicare-subsidized psychological therapy sessions per year was also cut, bringing the total number to 20 as a pandemic measure. These are just the first installments of deeper cuts to Medicare, amid a corporate media witch hunt accusing doctors of “rortering” the system.

For many people, the combined impact of Medicare cuts will outweigh the Albanian government’s claim to tackle cost-of-living pressures by reducing the general user fee for drugs covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme of $42.50 to $30 per scenario.

Likewise, the government’s promise to set up 50 Medicare urgent care clinics to reduce the burden on the hospital system is a drop in the bucket. Moreover, only limited “pilot” projects are scheduled for the next two years.

None of this has met with opposition from health care worker unions, which continue to suppress workers’ demands for a fight against the decimation of health care and block opposition to homicidal ‘let it rip’ policies. “.

The attack on public health underscores the WSWS’ assessment that the budget “inflicts the deepest cuts to working people’s living standards since World War II.” It is “the Albanian government’s initial down payment on the austerity and war preparedness program demanded by the ruling class”.

To advance the fight against this offensive and for fully funded and staffed public health care, health workers and other frontline workers, including teachers, must create their own rank-and-file committees, independent of unions, to unite and coordinate their struggles across the country and abroad.

To organize this counteroffensive, the Health Workers Rank-and-File Committee and the Committee for Public Education, both initiated by the Socialist Equality Party, convened a joint online public meeting on Sunday, November 20 at 3 p.m. (AEDT) .

Titled “Unite Educators and Health Workers: Oppose the End of COVID Protective Measures!” Life before profit!” the meeting will present a political perspective, including the creation of rank-and-file committees, to unite health care workers, educators and other sections of workers in the fight for safety, wages and decent conditions and elimination of COVID-19 Register now: https://bit.ly/3CRCuOh

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