Victoria and NSW have banded together to ramp up pressure on the federal government to overhaul Australia’s ailing primary care network through national cabinet this year.
Visiting a newly opened urgent primary care clinic, Premier Daniel Andrews said state-run hospitals were too often acting as a safety net because of an ongoing shortage of bulk-billing general practitioners.
“This is not our job,” he told reporters at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in Heidelberg on Tuesday.
“That system is broken. You cannot find a bulk-billing doctor, particularly out of hours, and that’s not the way it should be. That’s why this needs to be a key priority for reform around the national cabinet table in 2023.”
Mr Andrews expressed confidence other state and territory leaders would join Victoria in pressuring the Albanese government to reform the private aged care network, National Disability Insurance Scheme and Medicare.
“We can’t have a situation where Medicare doesn’t work and all of those patients, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of patients across the nation, are forced into already busy emergency departments,” he added.
The Victorian premier found an immediate ally in NSW counterpart Dominic Perrottet, who declared fixing the health system Australia’s “most urgent national priority”.
“It is the biggest challenge facing our country,” Mr Perrottet said.
“When you go through a pandemic and you see the pressure on the system, we need to reform Medicare.
“We need to have our public state health system working in support of the GP network. At the moment they are working against each other.”
In August, NSW and Victoria both pledged to open 25 urgent primary care clinics to limit lower-level patients clogging up emergency departments when unable to secure an appointment with a bulk-billing GP.
Ten have opened in Victoria and another 12 are on track to follow suit by early February, with the package costing Victorian taxpayers $70 million.
The Commonwealth’s COVID-related 50-50 health funding deal with state and territory governments expired at the end of 2022 after it was extended for an extra three months at a cost of $760 million.
Mr Andrews reiterated his opposition to reverting back to a 45-55 funding split, citing that the COVID-19 pandemic was not over.
“Either you fund health properly or you don’t,” he said.
“We’re spending $70 million in an area that has got nothing to do with the responsibilities of the state … but we can’t play our part and the commonwealth government’s part forever. That’s just not a sustainable fix.”
Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said the Albanese government was pouring significant resources into the health system to repair a “decade of damage” overseen by the Liberal-Nationals.
“The issues we have seen with the NDIS, a complete breakdown in aged care … has put immense pressure on our public hospitals,” he said.
“We are taking steps across a range of these issues, with the aim of relieving pressure in state and public hospitals.”
Callum Godde, Stephanie Gardiner and Alex Mitchell
(Australian Associated Press)