NCA recommendations slammed by key health bodies

07 May, 2014

Five key health organisations have written to Tony Abbott to express deep concern in relation to the reports and recommendations of the National Commission of Audit (NCA), which advocate cuts to government spending in areas of critical importance to Australians.

In particular, the groups believe the absence of a national approach in key areas – such as preventive health and communicable disease – will jeopardise people's health and put greater pressures on the health system.

Signatories to the letter include Australian Health Care Reform Alliance; Australian Health Promotion Association; Consumers Health Forum of Australia; Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education; and Public Health Association of Australia.

Dismantling agencies

"Among the Commission's recommendations are calls for the dismantling of multiple agencies – including the National Preventive Health Agency – and the surrender back to the states of key areas of responsibility in education, health and other services," said Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Health Association of Australia.

"From our perspective, such changes would represent an abrogation of responsibility by the Australian government that is entrusted to progress national priorities for the nation's health and wellbeing."

Compulsory GP co-payment

Tony McBride, Chair of the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance said: "A compulsory $15 co-payment for GP visits is one way of providing extra funding for health care, but it is one of the least effective, targeted bizarrely at those who are sick.

"Strong primary health care is internationally recognised as the cornerstone of an effective and lower cost health system.

"Discouraging low-income people – who we know have the worst health status on average – from attending their local GP or emergency department when there are the early signs of sickness is counter-productive, cruel if they are in pain, and ultimately foolhardy.

"Untreated diseases get worse and more expensive to cure."

Adam Stankevicius, Chief Executive Officer of the Consumers Health Forum said: "We also oppose the introduction of mandatory $15 co-payments for every Medicare service, and increased co-payments for PBS medications.

The need for a national focus

Gemma Crawford, President of the Australian Health Promotion Association said: "The Australian Government Department of Health manages key national strategies in relation to communicable diseases, immunisation, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, and closing the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Australians – just to name a few.

"The health portfolio takes into account the broader interests of all Australians. Responses to outbreaks of communicable diseases and other public health emergencies, for instance, clearly need to be coordinated at the national level."

Moore said: "The protection and improvement of health outcomes for all Australians are vital national government functions. They can't effectively be divested to the states and territories or privatised.

"These are fundamentally commonwealth responsibilities that require coordination and leadership at the national level.

"To suggest that we don't need a national focus on key issues is a dangerous nonsense.

Two-tiered system "un-Australian"

Stankevicius said: "Our commitment is to equitable and universal access to health care for all Australians. Measures that would create a two-tiered health system for the 'haves' and the 'have nots' are simply un-Australian.

"Australians fundamentally believe in a level playing field and a fair go for all. Our tax dollars should be used accordingly.

"We trust that the government will review and reject the majority of the Commission's recommendations with these considerations in mind."