Minister for Health Peter DuttonIT’S been a nail biting week for Southern NSW Medicare Local, with 105 employees left in the lurch after Coalition Treasurer Joe Hockey announced funding would cease for the health network in July 2015.
The decision to replace the national body with a smaller and reportedly more concise Primary Health Network (PHN) comes after an independent review found many patients experienced disjointed healthcare under Medicare Local, subsequently impacting the overall care and costs involved.
The review, submitted to Government by Professor John Horvath in March, listed a number of recommendations, among them a system boasting heavier GP involvement and greater alignment with NSW local health networks.
PHN was recommended as a way to “build on the strengths of Medicare Locals” while avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication within the system.
“Some Medicare Locals have achieved a great deal. However, as a national network they have failed to present a compelling argument to continue in their current form,” the report read.
Taking on board the recommendations, the Abbott Government announced the move during last Tuesday’s budget announcement.
Minister for Health Peter Dutton said the changeover will ensure funding is “not wasted on administration” and focused on improved services. The new network will align more closely with state and territory health systems and build around the work of GP’s.
“Improved primary health care is fundamental to achieving better health outcomes across Australia,” Mr Dutton said.
“A strong primary health care system helps to contain costs because health problems are treated before they need more expensive hospital treatment. Primary health care is best positioned to manage chronic disease and support preventive health to ease pressure on the hospital system.”
The Primary Health Network will also see the establishment of a Clinical Council and Community Advisory Committee. They will not provide health services but instead purchase health services to encourage public and private health care solutions.
The networks will be established following an open tender process later this year to begin operating from July 2015.
Boundaries for the new network are yet to be finalised, although it is understood there will be less than Medicare Local’s 61.
DESPITE the funding block, Chairman of Southern NSW Medicare Local Dr Martin Carlson said the organisation is committed to fight to retain its place as the region’s primary health care agency.
“The Southern NSW Medicare Local is already a high performing primary health organisation as defined by the Abbott Government’s review… we are therefore well placed to transition to the new organisation,” Dr Carlson said.
“It is disappointing that we are required to go through another competitive tendering process later this year.”
He expressed concern at the notion to set up fewer PHN’s as the larger geographical area could lead to slower response times in solving local service problems and hinder the ability to provide effective support to professionals.
“The Department of Health has limited information for us right now but when we see the tender documents in a few months we will be in a better position to understand exactly how these new organisations will function,” Dr Carlson said.
“Our message to the Southern NSW Community is that the Medicare Local’s valued services will continue for the next 12 months and that we will fight hard to retain our position.”
Currently, SNSWML services a population area of 194,000 ranging from Goulburn to Cooma, Queanbeyan and Bega. It provides clinical and allied health services including mental health, Aboriginal health, fitness and lifestyle programs, dietetics, youth health and foot care.
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