Budget injects more health investment into bush

The Hon Mark Coulton MP

Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government

The Australian Government is investing $800.3 million to improve the health of Australians in regional, rural, and remote areas, ensuring all Australians have access to quality health care services.

Federal Regional Health Minister, Mark Coulton said the 2021-22 Federal Budget supports bold, new rural workforce and training measures designed to further deliver the Government’s ten-year Stronger Rural Health Strategy.

“Regional Australia is driving Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19, and through our investment in the health portfolio in the 2021-22 Budget we continue to provide support to enable the regions and our local communities to prosper and grow,” Minister Coulton said.

“This is a health budget especially for the almost 8 million Australians who live and work in the regions. All Australians, regardless where they live, should have access to high quality health care.”

The Morrison McCormack Government continues – in this Budget – to invest in the rural training pipeline and improve the financial viability of rural practise, helping grow the nation’s highly skilled and vital rural health workforce.

A measure with immediate impact on the bottom-line for our doctors, is the introduction from 1 January 2022, at a cost of more than $65 million in the first four years, of a new progressive bulk billing schedule to better acknowledge remoteness under the MBS.

“Our Government understands doctors face greater health complexities and challenges in rural and remote areas, which is why more than 12,000 GPs will be eligible for a higher bulk billing incentive,” Minister Coulton said.

“Enhancing the financial viability of GP practices in rural towns and remote areas is just one of the things governments need to do to ensure we are attracting doctors to where they are most needed.

More junior doctors will receive invaluable rural training experiences through the new $12.4 million John Flynn Prevocational Doctor Training Program.

“This is a much needed injection for rural training, which will deliver almost double the current number of rural primary care rotations, ensuring young doctors have more exposure to the opportunities available in rural practice,” Minister Coulton said

“We continue to invest in training early career allied health professionals through a $9.6 million expansion of the successful Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway, which more than doubles the number of training positions for allied health disciplines.

“Allied health plays an important role in primary care. It is why we are supporting allied health professionals to participate in patient management conferencing, to provide more team-based primary health care to people in the bush.”

The Government is developing a streamlined program to support the National Rural Generalist Pathway in recognition of the greater demands and broader range of advance skills doctors often require in regional areas, especially where there is less support from other doctors and hospital services.

Minister Coulton said the Coalition Government understands rural and remote communities require bespoke, innovative workforce and training measures if we are to create more sustainable health services, better harness existing resources, and attract more health professionals to rural areas.

“Another $2.2 million will increase the number of collaborative primary care models underway in rural Australia, similar to those already in progress in southern and western NSW,” he said.

“We are also supporting a similar approach for specialist training, by investing $29.5 million to trial new regional training models with the aim of keeping more specialists training in rural settings, rather than them needing to relocate to training hospitals in metropolitan areas.

To further advance primary care in rural Australia, the Primary Health Network after hours program is being extended, the Hearing Services Online portal is being modernised and rural and remote diagnostic imaging providers are being assisted to upgrade and replace older equipment.

Minister Coulton welcomed significant investments in the 2021-22 Budget across the health portfolio to undertake once-in-a-generation changes to aged care, and strong reforms to the mental health sector.

“Our five pillar, five-year plan for aged care will deliver a record $17.7 billion package to reform the aged care sector, based on the principles of respect, care and dignity for our ageing,” he said.

“I want to see regional people be able to receive the care they need in the communities where they have lived, worked and raised their families.

“Rural, regional and remote communities will see improvements to residential aged care funding models, an expansion of home care packages, direct funding for infrastructure upgrades and greater support for the workforce, especially for registered nurses and GPs.

“Our $2.3 billion investment in mental health and suicide prevention – the largest investment in Australia’s history – includes direct benefits for country communities.”

A new national network of 57 additional mental health treatment centres and satellites, as well as an expansion of the Headspace program, will bolster services for the young and old in the bush.

Minister Coulton said the Government understands that one of the barriers regional Australians face in accessing mental health services is workforce shortages.

“The Budget delivers $202 million for the mental health workforce, including $58.8 million aimed at boosting the number of psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychologists and allied health practitioners in mental health services. More than $15 million is also available to support GPs to train and upskill to provide mental health care in the regions,” he said.

The Government is continuing the critical services regional Australians have relied on during COVID-19 with $3 billion to extend our COVID-19 health response, including $1.9 billion for the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and $204.6 million to extend telehealth measures, which have kept rural and regional communities safe and helped tackle the tyranny of distance.

“The Nationals understand the complex challenges faced by the rural health sector, such as recruiting GPs, nurses and allied health professionals to the bush, and I am 100 per cent committed to developing a range of programs and initiatives to combat this,” he said.

The new investment in the 2021-22 Budget is in addition to the $6.1 billion the Government is estimated to provide towards small rural and regional hospitals through the 2020-25 National Health Reform Agreement, and $7.5 billion for existing health workforce programs over the forward estimates.

REGIONAL HEALTH 2021-22 BUDGET SNAPSHOT

The Government’s 2021-22 rural, regional and remote investments in the 2021-22 Budget include, but is not limited to the following:

COVID Response

  • $3 billion to continue critical services that regional and rural Australians have relied on during COVID.
    • $1.9bn for vaccine rollout, including priority for remote communities of less than 5,000 people;
    • $1.1bn to extend COVID-19 health response, including $204.6m to continue MBS tele-health services, and $87.5m for the 150 GP-led Respiratory Clinics.

Aged care

  • Over $17.7 billion in aged care reforms nationally, across five pillars including:
    • One-off payment of $1,145 per resident to aged care facilities in non-metro areas;
    • $13.4m to strengthen regional aged care stewardship within 8 of the 31 PHNs;
    • $25.1m to expand the Rural Locum Assistance Program;
    • $630.2m to improve access to quality aged care services for consumers in regional, rural and remote areas including those with First Nations backgrounds and special needs groups;
    • $6.5 billion for an additional 80,000 Home Care Packages which will make a total of 275,598 packages available by June 2023; and
    • $652.1m to grow a skilled, professional and compassionate workforce, including $135.6m to provide RNs with financial support of $3,700 for full-time and $2,700 for part-time workers, nursing scholarships.

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

  • $2.3 billion, the largest single mental health and suicide prevention investment in Australia’s history.
  • Five priority areas which form the first phase of the Government’s response to the PC Report.
    • Prevention and early intervention $248.6m;
    • Suicide Prevention $298.1m;
    • Treatment $1.4bn – Head to Health Adult Mental Health Centres – 8 new centres, 24 satellite ($487.2m) and expanding headspace -10 new centres, 5 satellite ($278.6m);
    • Support for the Vulnerable $107m – $79m for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention; and
    • Workforce and Governance $202m – $58.8m to boost the number of psychiatrists, nurses psychologists and allied health practitioners in mental health settings, $15.9m to support GPs to upskill and provide primary mental health care.

Rural Health Workforce

  • $123m for Rural Health Workforce initiatives, including:
    • $65.8m to boost bulk billing rebates in rural and remote areas with effect from 1 January 2022.
    • $9.6m to expand the Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway
    • $2.2m for more collaborative primary care models
    • $12.4m for the new John Flynn Pre-vocational Doctor Training Program to increase rural primary care rotations
    • $29.5m to increase non-GP medical specialist training in areas facing workforce shortages
    • $0.3m to streamline the Rural Procedural Grants Program and Practice Incentives Program

Primary Health Care

  • $71.9m to extend the PHN After Hours program;
  • $20.7m to assist rural and remote diagnostic imaging providers to replace older equipment;
  • $50.7m for MyGP ICT system to support voluntary patient registration;
  • $13.7m for allied health case conferencing to better support multidisciplinary care for patients; and
  • $5.7m to modernise the Hearing Services Online portal, helping deliver care to Australians with hearing loss.

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