August 2, 2011

AUSTRALIA: Gillard hails hospital reform deal

SYDNEY, NSW / The Sydney Morning Herald / National / August 2, 2011

Done deal ... Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photo: Andrew Meares

All states and territories have signed up to Prime Minister Julia Gillard's national health reforms after the federal government faced a 15-month stand-off with Western Australia.

Under the deal the Commonwealth will fund up to 50 per cent of rising public hospital costs from 2014-15. The deal is worth an extra $16.4 billion to the states in the first six years. Overall it will deliver $175 billion by 2030.

"What this new deal means, put simply, is more money, more beds, more services, more local control, greater accountability, less waste and less waiting times around the nation," Ms Gillard said today.

Ms Gillard said funding arrangements would be completely transparent and accountable. She said Australians in the past rightly feared that one level of government was contributing more.

"This agreement changes all of that," she said, adding money would go into a transparent pool. "There will be clear transparency and accountability about where that money goes to and how it is spent."

Ms Gillard said people would be able to see the federal and state government contributions.

"The days of the blank cheque are also gone," she said. "This money is being devoted to get major reforms to our hospital system. Indeed this agreement delivers the most fundamental change to health care in this country since Medicare."

Ms Gillard said funding under the agreement would be distributed according to an efficient price for services. The price would be set by a national independent authority. The authority would enable the government "to see where the best and most efficient hospital practice is being pursued and then to spread that best practice".

As well, the MyHospital website will enable the public to see where the money is being spent and how services are delivered at their local hospital.

The deal specifies that 90 per cent of all patients presenting to a hospital emergency department must be seen within four hours, a change from an earlier target of 95 per cent that applied to only a selective group of patients.

"We have got away from all that complexity to make the system more transparent, more understandable and more meaningful," Ms Gillard said.

There also is a new target for elective surgery waiting lists with 100 per cent of patients' treatment delivered on time.

Ms Gillard said under the original deal it had been 95 per cent with the remaining 5 per cent to be referred to private hospitals.

"The experts have advised us that could have perverse and unforseen outcomes," she said.

"In particular it would not enable public hospitals to make long-term reliable arrangements with private hospitals, they want to have to work with them."

She defended yet another change to Labor's health reform package, first unveiled by former prime minister Kevin Rudd last year, saying the latest deal locked in a funding model well into the future.

"This isn't a block of funds, you know, a cheque, 'Here have this for five years and then come back in another five years and we'll have another ... ding-dong blue,' " Ms Gillard said.

"This is embedding into the system for the future how funding shares will work between the federal government and state governments."

Ms Gillard said the agreement put an end to situations whereby health ministers and premiers stormed out of meetings with the Howard government over disagreements about health funding.

It was also momentous because every state and territory had signed on completely for the first time.

"We've never been in a position to say that to you before," she said.


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