Inadequate Allotment For Mental Health, Say Australian Critics

by Gopalan on  April 22, 2010 at 5:58 AM General Health News
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 Inadequate Allotment For Mental Health, Say Australian Critics
Australian mental health experts are unhappy with the 'measly' allocation for mental health in the multi-billion dollar health reforms package announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Saying fundamental reform is needed to ensure the country's health system can cope with the pressures of a growing and ageing population, the federal government is now proposing to -

become the dominant funder of public hospitals;
   * fund 60 per cent of building, equipment, teaching, training and services;
    * take pressure off public hospitals by improving the health care provided in the community; and
    * fund all GP and primary care services and all aged care services.

Under the agreement, a third of state and territory GST revenue (except WA) will be retained by the Commonwealth and allocated to health and hospitals reform.

There will be a minimum of $15.6 billion provided by the Australian Government in top-up funds to guarantee sustainable funding for public hospitals. Besides will start delivering $5.3 billion in additional funding over the next four years to provide:

    * 1,300 new sub-acute hospital beds;
    * Over 6000 new doctors;
    * An additional 2500 aged care beds;
    * Emergency department waiting times capped at four hours;
    * Elective surgery delivered on time for 95 per cent of Australians;
    * An historic agreement to reshape mental health services and help 20,000 extra young people get access to mental health services;
    * More coordinated care for patients with diabetes in general practice;
    * A Commonwealth takeover of primary care; and
    * A Commonwealth takeover of aged care.

It is dubbed as $5 billion in sweeteners to the states in return for their support of his hospitals takeover plan, but of that money only $115 million will go to mental health, which is grossly inadequate, say critics.

Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at Sydney University says Mr Rudd has not delivered any structural reform to the sector, despite hints that there would be changes.

"We're dumbfounded. We're really staggered on behalf of the mental health community," he told Radio National.

"Mr Rudd needs to explain what happened.

"Clearly when it got down to the hard politics and the hard cash, the premiers went for the hospitals. The Commonwealth said, 'we are basically not serious in this area'.

"This is a token amount of money."

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, who has foreshadowed budget cuts to pay for the health spending, says more could be done, but the funds are still substantial.

"There's always more that can be done and obviously I and others would want to be doing more in this area," he told Radio National.

Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, now heading mental health organisation Beyond Blue, has told AM radio that the package is incomplete.

The Government also faces a battle to get its plan through the Senate as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott gives no guarantees on whether the Coalition will support it.

"We still don't know exaclty what the deal is," he said.

Most state governments have already fallen in line, except the conservative-ruled Western Australia.

Surveys show health is one of the top voter concerns and many people are unhappy with the current state-controlled system, hobbled by health costs growing at around 8% a year and outstripping government support.

But states had been reluctant to hand over their tax revenue, fearing it would set a precedent and erode their constitutional powers in favour of stronger national government control.

Rudd's takeover will be a boost to his political momentum ahead of elections later this year and allow him to counter accusations his government has been unable to deliver on big health, education and climate change reforms promised in 2007.

He said he had worked hard to ensure the A$5.4bn for hospital and aged care beds, mental health and overstretched emergency wards would be found through budget cuts.

Saying his radical election-year health reforms will be funded in his May 11 budget, he is pressing the hostile upper house to pass his A$5bn deal with states.

Source: Medindia

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