2015 Health Budget: death by 1000 cuts

old-fashioned straight razor to illustrate Andrew Topp piece

The Public Health Association of Australia has described the 2015 Health Budget as a bloodbath for health organisations delivering vital services to the Australian community.

$1.7 billion worth of funding cuts have been flagged across funded programs over the next four years.

“Last year’s Budget foreshadowed $197.1M in cuts to the ‘Health Flexible Funds’ over three years,” says Michael Moore, CEO Public Health Association of Australia.

“This year, that figure has turned into $500M worth of cuts. There is still no clarity in relation to how these savings are to be achieved.

“Among the 16 Flexible Funds apparently to be affected are those supporting the provision of essential services in rural, regional and remote Australia; working to Close the Gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Australians; managing vital responses to communicable diseases; and delivering substance use treatment services around the country.

“Obviously it’s of great concern to all the services and organisations potentially affected.

“Other programs to be subjected to cuts include: health assessments for children; the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (with cuts of $125M to be achieved by freezing indexation); cuts to scholarship programs; and a range of others.”

On top of the $1.7 billion in cuts to funded programs, a further $96 million in internal Departmental cuts will be applied over the forward estimates.

“So the cuts to service delivery and community capacity will be mirrored by reduced capacity within the Department itself,” Moore says.

“These drastic cuts to funding for NGOs in the Health portfolio will only lead to worse public health outcomes and increasing expenditure on the acute care sector over time.

“Support for preventive health care and timely interventions reduces the likelihood of expensive hospitalisation and makes good economic sense.

“Services provided by the community sector are integral to the achievement of key health and economic goals.”

Maintaining funding to the NGO sector within the Health portfolio is vital to achieving key targets for Closing the Gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Australians, he says.

“Likewise, alcohol and other drug services would be severely impacted by any funding cuts.

“On the one hand, the Government has announced that $20 million will be spent over two years on a community awareness campaign as part of the National Ice Action Strategy.

“On the other hand, funding to the services helping individuals, families and communities to address addiction are now up for the chop. To think that funding for these vital services is currently under threat beggars belief.

“If these drastic cuts go ahead it could decimate NGO sector responses to many of the key challenges in public health and leave Australian families and communities without the support they need.

“What adds insult to injury is the lack of transparency around these measures. Organisations attending this year’s Health Budget Lock-Up received only a press release on arrival that made no mention of any cuts to funding.

“The Government can’t hide the impact of this slash-and-burn approach. Unfortunately Australians will find out soon enough the impact of these measures.”

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