Patients 'left in limbo' about Medicare Locals replacement

13 October, 2014

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) is calling on the Commonwealth and State Health Ministers to open up about their plans for primary health care to give certainty to both patients and health professionals alike.

"The continuing uncertainty around the boundaries for the new Primary Health Networks is threatening the continuity of a range of programs overseen by the existing Medicare Locals," said AHHA Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven. 

"This is beginning to have a significant impact on providing care to patients, a lot of whom are very vulnerable."

Medicare Locals are managing a range of programs, including mental health programs, across Australia. 

Funding uncertainty, job insecurity

With funding to Medicare Locals ceasing at 30 June 2015, many programs will be unable to continue or to accept new patients due to the uncertainty of their future. Job insecurity is also affecting staff retention, further adding to the challenges of providing care to vulnerable people.

"Patients participating in these programs include people with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, and people at risk of self-harm and suicide. Clearly patients in such programs are at high risk and their care must be uninterrupted by the Government's changes," Verhoeven said.  

"The Government has indicated its support for the coordination of primary care, but the sector is in limbo because of the procrastination about the number and locations of the new Primary Health Networks.

"A strong primary health care system is central to both a healthy population and a productive economy, so it is unclear why the Government is stalling now at the final hurdle.

"With Health ministers meeting in Melbourne … this is an ideal opportunity to end the uncertainty and give us all the long overdue announcement of the Primary Health Network boundaries. That will mean the primary care sector can start to plan and make firm commitments to services for all Australians."