Political Parties Ignore Health Issues, Australian Medical Association Charges

Political Parties Ignore Health Issues, Australian Medical Association Charges
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has lashed out at the federal government for keeping crucial health issues of the election agenda.
The government does not want to face head on the various problems plaguing public health, AMA says.

The association’s president Rosanna Capolingua has launched the organisation's election slogan, Choose Health, and released a summary of major health issues the AMA wants addressed.

Apart from the takeover of Mersey Hospital, in Devonport, the government has been keeping the issue of health on the backburner, Rosanna Capolingua said.

'The government has tried very much to keep health off the election agenda because health has been an important issue in the past around federal elections ... and health is still an important issue for every one of us,'Dr. Capolingua told reporters in Canberra.

'So, if you can keep it off the scoreboard then it stays out of the debate.'

Federal elections are due before the end of the year and the ruling Liberal-National coalition is set to receive a drubbing according to latest opinion polls.

Dr Capolingua said neither the coalition nor Labor had outlined a comprehensive plan to address Australia's health needs and that must change.

'I want those targets to be put on the table so that we can all scrutinise them appropriately,' she said.

Dr Capolingua said Australia had a good health system by world standards, but several improvements were needed.

In the document, Key Health Issues for the 2007 Federal Election, the AMA pinpointed 18 separate issues it said needed to be addressed by the government and opposition, and gave several policy recommendations.

The 'big five' issues, Dr Capolingua said, were training young doctors, increasing the number of beds in public hospitals, indigenous health, public health issues such as obesity, and maintaining a balance between the private and public health sectors.

Dr Capolingua said it was essential the Medicare system was maintained, but it should be simplified.

'The number of items in Medicare has expanded, it's become quite complex and it is a red-tape nightmare that makes a lot of work for doctors in the background and, really, we need that simplified,' she said.

Prime Minister John Howard has announced a $45 million package to revive the ailing Mersey Hospital in Tasmania, a remote part of Australia.

Dr Capolingua welcomed the proposal but stressed that should not be a one-off.

'There are over 550 hospitals in regional, rural and remote areas in all the States and Territories and many would be in the same or an even worse position than Mersey, with State Governments having allowed them to run down,' Dr Capolingua said.

'The Commonwealth needs to inject more funding into regional, rural and remote hospitals across the country. There must be a coordinated national strategy - one-off funding promises like this are simply putting out local fires'.

'A significant funding boost is urgently needed in the next round of Health Care Agreements to support communities served by hospitals like Mersey, and the funding must be allocated according to local needs in consultation with the local doctors'.

'To attract doctors into regional and rural areas, we need much more comprehensive support for hospitals in these areas. Doctors need well-supported hospitals in order to deliver quality services, maintain their skills, and to be encouraged to stay working in rural areas'.

'Properly targeted funding in the Health Care Agreements will mean that the Commonwealth and States can work together to improve care in rural and regional areas.' she said.


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