Tuesday, June 3, 2014

HCCA response to the ACT Budget 2014

The ACT Government is to be commended for putting people first in this budget.  They have taken the decision to absorb the cuts made by the Federal Government and have crafted a budget that delivers modest expansion of health services.

ACT Budget Papers

The ACT Government have taken the decision to absorb the cuts announced in the recent Federal Budget.  These cuts are by no means small. Treasurer Barr today outlined that more than $500m has been written off the ACT income from 2014-15 until 2017-18. This is due to a downturn in the housing market which will result in less land being sold for development ($250m over four years) and also the Federal Government walking away from the National Health Reform Agreements ($248m over four years).

The Treasurer outlined that the Commonwealth is not only the major employer in the Territory but is also a large consumer of goods and services. The cuts announced in the Federal Budget will see between 6000 and 6500 full time jobs disappear (2.9% of employment in the ACT). This will have flow on effects to the Canberra economy.

The Treasurer stressed that unlike other jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, the ACT Government does not borrow money to fund recurrent operating expenses and that they run a cash surplus every year.  They only borrow for infrastructure projects that add to the asset base of the Territory. And this budget does contain infrastructure spending for the health sector.

This budget has allocated funds for more general inpatient beds at both Canberra and Calvary Hospitals (15 beds). The 31 beds announced at Canberra Hospital includes 15 beds that were funded in 2013-14. This is welcome news. We continue to see more people presenting at the Emergency Department requiring admission and Canberra Hospital has been under significant pressure, routinely operating at over 90% capacity. There is also provision for additional staff at Canberra Hospital to support the opening of these beds which is good news, as you can’t open beds without having staff in place.

Hospital in the Home (HITH) which looks at caring for inpatients in their home will also have the service increased by six ‘beds’.

There is also funding to support two new emergency department physicians one for Canberra Hospital and one for Calvary. This is hoped to decrease waiting time in emergency.

The Walk in Centres are a great addition to our health system and provide affordable, appropriate care to consumers. This budget allocates funds for the operation of a new Walk in Centre at the Belconnen Health Centre.

There is also an announcement of about $9m for the expansion of outpatient services including a focus on chronic pain management. People living with persistent and chronic pain are not serviced well by our existing services and this allocation will make a difference.

There is also a modest increase to delivering intensive care at both public hospitals with two more beds at Canberra Hospital and another bed at Calvary Public Hospital. Canberra Hospital is the tertiary referral hospital for Canberra and the Capital Region and this will go some way to meeting the ongoing demand for these important services.

Calvary Health Care ACT will receive ongoing funding of $1.5m for the Birth Centre to continue. This is welcome news as the Birth Centre complements the Canberra Midwifery Program that runs at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children in Garran.

This follows the launch of the Obesity Management Services, which is a community based service to support people with a BMI of more than 40. An extension of this program is the provision of publically funded bariatric surgery. This amounts to just over $1m over four years and modelling suggests this will enable thirteen people to have the surgery each year. This will make a significant difference to their lives and complement the important work of the Obesity Management Service.

We will see the opening of the Capital Region Cancer Service early in the new financial year. The opening of this services has been delayed due to a burst water pipe, but work has almost finished to rectify this and we see $8.5m made available to deliver services.  Provision has also been made for an expansion of the lymphedema services at Calvary Hospital, with $1.9m funding over four years and new three staff positions to support this.  This service is important in supporting people, mostly women, in overcoming the effects of breast cancer and other conditions affecting the lymphatic system.

Mental Health funding has been maintained with an emphasis on community programs for suicide prevention, and children and youth mental health. Suicide prevention funding will include bereavement counselling for those who have lost someone due to suicide and community awareness campaigns. There has been provision for a modest expansion of service for people with eating disorders. This is an area of need in our community and we welcome the investment in this.

The Funding for the Health Infrastructure Program has been continued and HCCA is excited to see the commitment to the University of Canberra Public Hospital. We look forward to continuing to work with the Government on these projects.

In stressful times it is hard to get the balance right but on this occasion I think the ACT Government has done well in the short term to compensate the Canberra community from the worst effects of the Federal Budget. The big question is how can we sustain this into the future?

Darlene Cox
Executive Director


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