Health coalition urges Govt to scrap health cuts

PBS cuts: scissors cutting $20 note

A coalition of 17 peak and non-government organisations from the health and community sectors is calling on the Australian Government to scrap plans to cut nearly $800 million in funding to key health initiatives over the next four financial years.

The foreshadowed cuts would drastically reduce the capacity of non-government organisations and peak bodies to deliver services across the country and to provide advice and support for reform in health, says the group.

“It has been revealed in the latest round of Senate Estimates that $596.2M is to be cut from the Health Flexible Funds over the next four financial years,” says Melanie Walker, Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Public Health Association of Australia.

“This is on top of cuts totalling $197.1M announced in last year’s Budget – making a total of over $793M.

“There is still no clarity in relation to how these savings are to be achieved, with most existing funding contracts for NGOs set to expire either at the end of 2015 or on 30 June 2016.

“Among the 14 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.”

Lisa Briggs, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, says any cuts to the Health Flexible Funds will put more barriers in place for Aboriginal people to access essential health programs and services particularly in rural and remote Australia.

“While we welcome the Minister’s announcement on quarantining the specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Chronic Disease Fund many of our organisations receive project funding from the other Funds, so efforts to Close the Gap in health outcomes and life expectancy for Indigenous Australians will still be severely hampered if the cuts go ahead,” she says.

Rebecca MacBean, spokesperson for the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, says alcohol and other drug services would be severely impacted by any funding cuts.

“The Government has recognised the importance of treatment and harm reduction services in the context of establishing the National Ice Taskforce focusing on methamphetamine use, which is impacting particularly on rural and regional communities throughout Australia.

“To think that funding for these vital services is currently under threat beggars belief.”

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Hepatitis Australia, Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League and Australian Health Care Reform Alliance also criticised the cuts.

“Our organisations stand together in calling on the Australian Government to scrap its plans to cut $800M in funding from the Health Flexible Funds over the next four years,” says Tim Woodruff, Deputy Chair of AHCRA.

“If the 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.”

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