Dec 7, 2009

Health red tape under scrutiny

THE Prime Minister will target doctors' claims of bloated health bureaucracies when he meets premiers today to begin talks on health reform.

''Over-bureaucratisation of the health sector'' is cited at the top of the Government's list of key concerns among clinicians as spelt out to Kevin Rudd and federal ministers during their round of reform consultations over the past six months.

The Australian Medical Association has previously complained that while hospital bed numbers decline, desks for managers have increased, while public hospitals say the statistics show they are as cost effective as private hospitals.

At the meeting in Brisbane with premiers and chief ministers, Mr Rudd today is expected to give his assessment of public reaction to the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report released in July.

Contrary to expectations among insiders that the Prime Minister would sketch out a blueprint for reform today, he is not expected to do so until crunch talks early next year when he will put to the states and territories a reform plan.

Their response will determine whether or not Mr Rudd moves on his election pledge to seek a mandate for a Commonwealth takeover of public hospital funding.

There has been a mixed reaction from the states to the prospect of greater federal control.

The Victorian Government has expressed resistance to any scheme that would extend Canberra's control of health services. The Premier, John Brumby, yesterday said Victoria had undertaken more reforms to its health system than any other state.

The new Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally, discussed the health reform issue with Mr Rudd on Saturday. Yesterday she was non-committal about retaining the approach of her predecessor, Nathan Rees, who advocated a single national agency to fund all services by pooling all state and federal financing and allocating it to regional health authorities.

According to the Federal Government, the public response to the reform website yourHealth.gov.au showed people wanted a greater role for the Commonwealth in the health system.

Other reforms favoured by the public were large primary health-care centres that could offer GP, practice nurse, physiotherapy and other services, more hospital funding, and more investment in mental-health care.

But the consultations with the public have revealed ''mixed views'' regarding the reform commission's proposal for ''Denticare'', a universal scheme aimed at extending dental care to the 600,000 disadvantaged in urgent need of dental care but which would require an income levy.

The views of clinicians such as doctors and nurses as expressed at the consultations favoured greater autonomy and flexibility at the local level and more funding and better distribution of money for more hospital beds and elective surgery.

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