WA health budget desperate game of catch up with little future proofing

The State health budget is a desperate game of catch-up that will allow hospitals to continue treading water with very little money to deal with future demand, according to the Opposition.
“This is a belated ‘catch up’ budget for our health system that has been mismanaged and ignored by the McGowan Labor Government for the past five years, resulting in an ambulance ramping crisis, a shortage of beds, nurses and doctors, massive blow outs in elective surgery, equipment failures and lives lost,” Shadow Health Minister Libby Mettam said.
“It was extraordinary to also hear the Treasurer boasting about his surplus making other States green with envy while overseeing a health system that has the lowest beds per capita in the country.”
Ms Mettam said the 530 beds promised from last year are a band aid solution, with many of them leased from private hospitals or in modulars and won’t be delivered in full until after the winter flu system and the omicron peak.
“There is also real concern about the lack of future proofing in the system to ensure that we can meet increasing demand,” Ms Mettam said.
“These beds will hopefully ease current pressure and bring capacity to a level where it can meet existing demand when they are finally delivered, but there is nothing in the forward estimates to indicate a future plan.
“Of the $33 billion asset investment commitments over the next four years, only two per cent ($721m) of that is allocated to health.
“There’s $8m in this budget for the new Women and Babies Hospital but nothing in the forward estimates to indicate when it is expected to be delivered.
“There’s still no clear plan on when the Joondalup Medihotel will be delivered, despite being a key 2017 election pledge aimed at reducing pressure on hospital bed capacity and remaining part of the government’s “vision”.
“The Sustainable Health Review was touted as the blueprint for the future – but there is only $21m over the next four years to implement it, most of it on bureaucrats.
“While the commitment to Geraldton Hospital upgrades is welcome, there is no timeframe on when the upgrades will be delivered and while WACHS recognise the Margaret River Hospital as vital this regional centre also continues to be ignored.
“This is a government that is tinkering around the edges on health, putting out spot fires with no real vision or plan for how it will meet increasing demand in the future and no timeframes for current promised projects.”
Ms Mettam said the $252m emergency reform package was also less than half of what the government was spending on Rapid Antigen Tests ($635m).
“While we support the delivery of free RATs for Western Australians, I question why the same amount or more has not been dedicated to reforming a system that is at absolute breaking point with ambulances ramped for more than 52000 hours last year, double the year before.
“If they can spend $635m on RATs, why aren’t we putting the same level of funding priority on reforming the emergency departments that are at absolute choking point right now, particularly when we have a $5.7bn surplus?”
Ms Mettam said it was also disappointing that a key pledge for paramedics in the regions would be rolled out “over two to three years” given the recent tragic impact of ambulance ramping in country areas now also.
“It was astonishing to hear the Health Minister admit last week that they were still rolling out the $20m in funding for paramedics in the regions from two years ago. There appears to be no real urgency in addressing the problems that are having a real and dire impact on WA patients right now.
“This a government that is big on spin, short on substance and is doing just enough to keep the health system afloat while sitting on a giant pile of cash.”