19 June 2023

ACT Budget: $200 million for health workforce, $20 million for homelessness services

| Ian Bushnell
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high view of hospital

Canberra Hospital from the top of the new Critical Services Building. $122 million will go to staffing and resourcing for the new facility. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The ACT Government will spend more than $200 million over the next four years to boost the Territory’s health services, including on more doctors and nurses, and $20 million to provide more help for people without a home.

Today’s announcements come a week out from the 2023-24 ACT Budget Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr will hand down on 27 June.

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The government says the health funding is part of long-term planning to attract and retain the health workforce needed for the growing Territory and will include $122 million in staffing and resourcing to operate the new Critical Services Building at Canberra Hospital, which will open in 2024.

This includes more than 80 additional doctors, nurses, allied health and support workers, bringing to 570 the number of additional positions funded since the 2020-21 Budget.

There is $28 million over the next four years to increase services and improve working conditions for the public health workforce. These include:

  • $2.2 million to help attract and retain skilled workers
  • $8.6 million over three years for improvements to the working environment for Junior Medical Officers, including longer contracts to provide job security for graduating doctors, additional learning positions, increased pastoral care and improved training and development.
  • $1.25 million over three years for the continuation of the Indigenous Allied Health Australia Health Academy program in the ACT to increase the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce, improve cultural safety in our services, and deliver better educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students.
  • $3.5 million over four years to continue funding for replacing and upgrading nurse-call systems and duress alarms to support nurse safety when providing care.
  • $3 million in funding over three years to provide study support payments for health professional students undertaking an eligible degree through an ACT university.
  • $9.9 million over four years to boost Canberra Hospital cleaners’ pay and establish a project team to develop options for insourcing services across Canberra Health Services.

The government says it is also negotiating to finalise the next phase of mandated minimum nurse/midwife to patient ratios, with a significant focus on ratios in maternity services.

It says it is continuing to boost training and support, enhance career pathways and focus on improving the safety and wellbeing of health workers.

Mr Barr said the government sought to make Canberra an attractive choice for public healthcare workers.

“By investing in our workforce conditions and our hospital and healthcare facilities, we are supporting working conditions and environments that will attract and retain high-quality doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers,” he said.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said a better-supported workforce could deliver better health services for Canberrans.

“We are investing in supports across the workforce, based on feedback from the workers themselves – including our junior doctors,” she said.

“This means investing in more doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and health care students while improving the wages and conditions of the cleaners who keep Canberra Hospital running.”

The boost to homelessness services includes $14.3 million over four years so existing service providers can expand their operations.

Ainslie Lodge, MacKillop House, Axial Housing and the Early Morning Centre will get $2.3 million over two years to meet the increased demand for shelter.

The Rough Sleeper Program, Complex Client Program and Client Support Fund will receive $1.7 million.

There will be $1.2 million next financial year to provide hotel rooms for people escaping domestic violence, coordinated by OneLink and the Domestic Violence Crisis Service.

Food providers will be boosted by $389,000 in 2023-24, and $256,000 in 2023-24 for sector development and training.

The government says these initiatives are in addition to ongoing funding for the sector.

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Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti said this Budget outlay would ensure that services were able to continue their vital work and represented the continuation of a significant increase in their baseline funding.

“Amid the worst housing crisis we’ve seen in generations, specialist homelessness services are on the front line, ensuring that people have somewhere safe to sleep and can access a decent home,” she said.

“We know there are more people in need than ever before, and the complexity of need is increasing. We need to ensure these services have the funding and support they need to respond to Canberrans who need our help.”

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Why are we wasting a couple of hundred million dollars on frivolous junk like healthcare and housing when we should be prioritising spending towards the real issues like billions of dollars on light rail that only a small percentage of Canberrans will ever use?

Priorities people…

And just how is the Barr/Rattenbury government going to fund the proposed Northside hospital with heavy expenditures elsewhere???

From money trees

And just imagine what it would cost if we don’t have a major investment in health. The pandemic taught us that our economy was vulnerable when our health system couldn’t cope. There are already problems with health delivery (not just in Canberra, but also elsewhere in Aus and the rest of the world) because of cost cutting. Many people are already complaining of problems with Canberra’s hospitals. It takes time to build new hospitals and to recruit/train staff. The process has to start somewhere. If the ACT government puts off this major spend for another decade or so, then the cost (both is dollar terms & the cost to the health of the population) will be multiplied.

I dunno, we seemed to have survived COVID just fine with the current health system we have. What’s the worst that will happen, another pandemic?

The issue is that Canberra is too small to have specialists with enough work so they will always be based in large capitals like Sydney. No amount of investment in training would rectify that. More of a focus needs to be on preventative health measures such as reducing the strain on the system from obesity and drug abuse. So more stringent taxes on junk food, alcohol and getting tougher on drugs.

Don’t try to rewrite history. We survived the worse problems of COVID because we needed a lockdown & closed borders before the vaccines were developed. It was a disaster for the economy, but necessary because the health system would have collapsed if we had experienced the rate of infection witnessed in other countries in the early days of the pandemic.

And the current waiting lists (surgery & EDs) are the result of many things, not just obesity and drug use. How will a tax on junk food help someone sitting in ED because of a sporting injury or a child badly dehydrated after picking up rotavirus at school?

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