VHA welcomes renewed focus on health of the nation, flagging concerns over funding for aged care and telehealth

May 11, 2021

The Victorian Healthcare Association has welcomed the Commonwealth Government’s renewed focus on long-term health priorities – the health of the nation – with the 2021-22 Budget’s emphasis on aged care and mental health, as well as measures prioritising inclusion and diversity with funding targeted at women’s health and support for people with disabilities.

While increased funding contained in the 2021-22 Budget reflects the Commonwealth Government’s recognition of key priorities for investment in areas of public health identified by the VHA over the past decade, the VHA remains concerned with the significant underfunding of aged care and telehealth.

Commenting on the Budget, VHA Chief Executive Tom Symondson pointed to Commonwealth Government investments in key areas of the health system – namely aged care, mental health, prevention and disability.

‘We are pleased to see investment for many areas we identified as critical in our pre-budget submission, including the expansion of mental health services like the Head to Health network and the beginning of funding for the rollout of aged care reforms.

‘A Budget focusing on the ‘health of the nation’ will go some way to address the significant strain the COVID-19 response has put on the healthcare system, as well as a long history of underinvestment,’ Mr Symondson said.

‘After the first budget tabled during the pandemic failed to deliver on the generational change required for the health sector, the second budget delivers widespread investment across the sector.’

Disappointingly, the Budget fails to deliver a long-term investment in Telehealth, with funding for this vital service due to end in December 2021.

‘Telehealth played an absolutely critical role during the pandemic – when people couldn’t access even the most basic care in person, they could talk to a doctor, a nurse or an allied health professional online and get the care they desperately needed. It has an even more important role to play post COVID, taking pressure off our health services and enabling consumers to access care when and how they want to. Yet the Commonwealth is ready to turn off the tap in six short months,’ Mr Symondson added.

Aged care is another area that needs further scrutiny, with the $17.7 billion announced for the initial response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety being only the start of the investment required to deliver on the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

‘The Royal Commission demonstrated the need for a complete rethink of our aged care system and while this funding provides a strong foundation for that process, it cannot, and must not, be the end of the conversation.”

The Budget also provides much needed investment in public hospitals with $135.4 billion committed over five years, including funding under the 2020–25 National Health Reform Agreement (NHRA) and the National Partnership on COVID-19. This is roughly an increase of $1 billion a year compared to last year’s funding, with Victoria seeing an increase of over $1.2 billion in its annual NHRA funding over that period.

As part of its initial response to the Productivity Commission’s 2020 report on mental health, the Commonwealth Government has announced it will provide $2 billion over four years to support the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan. The Government has also shown support for preventive health activities with a spend of $23.1 million over five years.

‘With record funding across multiple areas, it is critical that the Commonwealth Government work closely with the health sector and communities to ensure the funding is matched with people and processes to ensure maximum impact.’