Victorian and New South Wales have banded together to ramp up pressure on the federal government to overhaul Australia’s ailing primary care network through national cabinet this year.
Visiting a newly opened urgent primary care clinic in Melbourne, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said state-run hospitals were too often acting as a safety net amid an ongoing shortage of bulk-billing general practitioners.
“This is not our job,” Andrews said, while visiting the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre on Tuesday.
“That system is broken. You cannot find a bulk-billing doctor, particularly out of hours, and that’s not the way it should be.
“That’s why this needs to be a key priority for reform around the national cabinet table in 2023.”
Andrews expressed confidence other state and territory leaders would join Victoria in pressuring the Albanese government to embark on reforming the system this year.
“We can’t have a situation where Medicare doesn’t work and all of those patients, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of patients across the nation, are forced into already busy emergency departments,” he said.
Andrews found an immediate ally in his NSW counterpart, Dominic Perrottet, who said fixing the health system was Australia’s “most urgent national priority”.
“It is the biggest challenge facing our country,” Perrottet said.
“When you go through a pandemic and you see the pressure on the system, we need to reform Medicare.
“We need to have our public state health system working in support of the GP network. At the moment they are working against each other.”
In August, NSW and Victoria both pledged to open 25 urgent primary care clinics to limit lower-level patients clogging up emergency departments when unable to secure an appointment with a bulk-billing GP.
Victoria has opened 10 of the clinics.
Another 12 are on track to open in February under the $70m package.
A Covid-related 50-50 health funding deal between the commonwealth and state and territory governments expired at the end of 2022, after being granted a three-month extension.
Andrews reiterated his opposition to reverting back to a 45-55 funding split on Tuesday, saying the Covid pandemic was not over.
“Either you fund health properly or you don’t,” he said.
“We’re spending $70m in an area that has got nothing to do with the responsibilities of the state … but we can’t play our part and the commonwealth government’s part for ever. That’s just not a sustainable fix.”
The federal emergency management minister, Murray Watt, said the Albanese government was pouring significant resources into the health system to repair a “decade of damage” overseen by the Coalition.
“The issues we have seen with the NDIS, a complete breakdown in aged care … has put immense pressure on our public hospitals,” Watt said.
“We are taking steps across a range of these issues, with the aim of relieving pressure in state and public hospitals.”