Greg Hunt’s re-appointment as Minister for Health has been greeted with relief by a health sector desperate for stability in choppy political waters.
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone today said Mr Hunt’s experience and achievements in the role, which he took up in January 2017, made this a welcome decision.
“It takes months for new ministers to gain command of the depth and breadth of the health portfolio,” he said.
“With an election due in the first half of 2019, new Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made the right call in leaving health in the safe hands of Greg Hunt.
“A fourth health minister in five years would have undermined the priority that Australians place on good health policy,” Dr Bartone said.
Only last Tuesday evening, Dr Bartone was in conference with Mr Hunt discussing reform priorities for healthcare which the AMA wants to see movement on before the next federal election.
Two days later, Mr Hunt was gone, resigning his position before taking part in a failed bid to install Peter Dutton as prime minister with Mr Hunt running for deputy leadership of the Liberal Party.
“Greg Hunt has been a very consultative minister who has displayed great knowledge and understanding of health policy and the core elements of the health system,” Dr Bartone said.
“In his time as minister, he has presided over the gradual lifting of the Medicare freeze and the major reviews of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and the private health insurance (PHI).
“And he has acknowledged that major reform and investment is needed in general practice.”
Dr Bartone said that the AMA looked forward to continuing its strong working relationship with Ken Wyatt, who will remain as minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care and Indigenous Health.
Senator Bridget McKenzie will retain rural health as part of her Regional Services portfolio. But there is no longer a dedicated portfolio for rural health under the new ministry, which is to be sworn in tomorrow.
Dr Adam Coltzau, president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, asked the prime minister to reconsider that decision.
“With Minister McKenzie receiving an expanded set of other portfolio responsibilities, we are worried that the significant level of focus she has given to rural health to date will, due to her increased workload in other portfolio areas, be diluted.
“There has never been a more important time for rural health to retain a distinct portfolio,” Dr Coltzau said.
RACGP President-elect Dr Harry Nespolon said he looked forward to working with Minister Hunt on the direction of healthcare in Australia.
“The RACGP will continue to work with Minister Hunt on our core patient priority areas, including preventive health and chronic disease management,” he said in a statement today.
At the weekend, Dr Bartone said the political turmoil of the past week had been a “significant distraction from matters at hand and in particular in health”.
“We want to get on with the job. We want to get on with trying to advocate for the best policy for the best outcomes for patients of Australia,” he told ABC radio.
The AMA leader welcomed Mr Morrison’s mention of chronic illness and aged care as priorities for his government, after the drought, in his first press conference after winning the party leadership.
Dr Bartone said that showed an appreciation that chronic disease was becoming an increasing focus of healthcare delivery in Australia – in general practice and hospitals, and a significant burden on the health budget – and it needed a long-term strategy for prevention and primary care.
“We need to acknowledge that over the last decade or more there’s been a significant disinvestment in general practice, in all facets of that care delivery.
“We’ve had a long-term freeze in the Medicare indexation, which is only just starting to thaw out now after decades of partial indexation,” he said.
Arguing the same point, the Consumer Health Forum called on Mr Morrison to step up investment in the government’s ailing Health Care Homes program and the Primary Health Networks.
“These are Coalition-initiated schemes in need of more financial support and commitment from the Federal Government,” the CHF CEO Leanne Wells said today.
Ms Wells said it was encouraging that Mr Morrison also spoke about affordable medicines and Medicare as priorities.
“There are grounds for thinking that this is more than a passing comment by Mr Morrison,” she said.
“Last October, as Treasurer, Mr Morrison cited the highly valid points made in the Productivity Commission report about the fragmented health system and poor communication between different parts of the system.
“As he said then this “veil of ignorance”, where a doctor may not even be aware of significant health issues of their patient, can slow care, put the patient at risk and result in unnecessary procedures and costs leading to inadequate care and/or expensive unjustified treatments.”