Funding for public health response critical for Victoria

October 15, 2020

Following the release of the 2020-21 Commonwealth Budget, we sat down with the VHA Chair Sue Matthews to get her perspectives on what the budget means for the sector, and specifically for our hospitals.

What’s your overall impression of this year’s budget?

I think that this is such an unprecedented time, that it is difficult to say what is the best approach to ensure economic recovery. From a COVID perspective, it is quite short sighted, and merely reacting to the current issues, rather than looking to support the changes needed to prepare for a pandemic in the future. For example, while I welcome the extension of temporary telehealth services for COVID, I think it is short sighted to not make it permanent as we know this needs to be a way that we provide healthcare in the future.

What was the key area of funding you were hoping to see in the budget? And did you see the level of investment needed?

One thing we have seen, over and over again, is that COVID-19 exploits pre-existing conditions, whether in people or in health-care systems. As such, I was hoping to see a focus on the most vulnerable, specifically women as we know they have been disproportionately affected by COVID. Not only in the physical impact of the virus itself, but also as the large proportion of front line care providers, as insecure workers and caregivers at home. Family violence has increased during the pandemic. I echo the statement of the VHA that says, “We welcome funding of $24.4 million to be immediately available to Victoria for COVID-19 Domestic Violence Support to ensure the safety of women and their children experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, domestic, family and sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we cannot help but reflect the need for a preventative and early intervention approach to supporting women and their children.” I would add that I would have liked to see support for programs in hospitals (like the Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence run by the Women’s).

I was also looking for significant increases in funding for Aged Care. This sector has seen many issues come to light through the Royal Commission as well as the impact the pandemic has had on its residents and staff. These are significant factors that need to be addressed and this budget does not acknowledge the level of crisis and the extent of change required.

What investment in this year’s budget is most relevant to your part of the healthcare sector?

The $20.2 million in community health, hospitals and infrastructure projects is far from enough to address the state of the infrastructure and the new standards that will inevitably come as a result of COVID. For example, all single rooms with negative pressure in all of them. But it is a critical need for our sector.

The $1.1 billion in 2020-21 for the National Partnership Agreement on COVID-19 Response, to continue support for the states and territories in managing the public health response to COVID-19 will be critical for hospitals in Victoria.

This would be coupled with the need for an immunisation strategy that prioritises healthcare workers to be immunised first.

What has most surprised you about this year’s Commonwealth budget?

The short term nature of the response is disappointing. We know there will be very long term implications that need long term solutions so it’s disappointing not to see this.

Besides health, what other areas of the budget are you most interested in and what’s the link with healthcare?

I think it is important to ensure income support for those who have lost their job or work. We know that low income is a key indicator for poor health and as said earlier, the more vulnerable, including women are more impacted.