My Daily Advertiser column for 23 May 2017: Bad news for our health on two counts during budget week

by ray goodlass

Last week my commentary on the 2017 budget focussed on its attack on young people, including cuts to university and how Gonski 2.00 represented a huge cut in schools funding compared to the Gillard government’s Gonski 1.0, but in budget week there were two attacks on the health system that need to be exposed.

One of these attacks was included in the budget itself, but another was a separate health issue that snuck up on us largely unnoticed because of the media’s focus on the budget, and so I’ll analyse it first.

What happened was that the Nick Xenophon Team and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation slammed the door on terminally ill patients fighting for faster access to the medical cannabis prescribed by their doctor, the Special Access Scheme would give faster access to medicinal cannabis for terminal patients.

Patients are currently waiting weeks and sometimes months for access to these treatments. This motion could have reduced that to a day or possibly hours. For some of these patients, speedy access to medicinal cannabis is the difference between being able to eat or wasting away.

These changes add time, stress, and difficulty for terminally ill patients accessing medicinal cannabis. Terminally ill patients who are using medicinal cannabis to alleviate their suffering have been let down.

As Australian Greens party room leader Richard Di Natale said, “I am so disappointed that these politicians couldn’t put the needs of terminally ill patients above their own political games”.

This was during the same week that the budget dealt yet another blow to health care, for it really failed Australian patients, had zero vision for the future of the system and was clearly a political fix. The Government’s plan to lift the Medicare freeze will have no impact for patients for at least a year, if not longer.

Indeed, Greg Hunt’s ‘road map’ for health lacks any vision for the future of healthcare in this country. It’s a U-turn that takes us back to where we were three years ago.

Taking the Medicare freeze off ice is an entirely political fix by this Government in response to a very successful campaign run by doctors. It unwinds part of their worst health policy while doing nothing to look to the future of our health system. Sure, they finally listened, but this ‘phased’ removal is meaningless for patients.

I’m left wondering whatever happened to Prime Minister Turnbull’s flagship health reform? This time last year he was out there spruiking his Health Care Homes initiative to revolutionise Medicare for chronic disease, yet last week we saw the funding for this initiative cut and kicked two years down the road while trial sites are delayed until October.

Not only are they unpicking their own reform program designed to treat people with chronic illnesses, there is next to nothing for programs to help prevent Australians developing debilitating chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the first place, particularly in children.

Also, in case there was any doubt, this budget also confirms this Government has no commitment to Closing the Gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health.

We all have every right to feel hugely let down, again, by this government on health. This budget is not about patients, for there is not one measure here, apart from cheaper medicine, that would improve health care for those who receive it, that is, patients.