Victorian State Budget good for Health?

You’ll have undoubtedly seen a lot of coverage in recent days of the Victorian State Budget and the usual articles about the so-called “winners and losers”.

The state Budget in many ways represents a bold effort to ensure that Victoria’s economy can recover as quickly as possible as the state works towards being COVID safe. There are clear indications that the Victorian Government will be pursuing a range of infrastructure measures alongside efforts to reduce costs to businesses impacted during the Victoria’s second wave lockdown to encourage employment and to encourage expansion of business.

It is quite right for the Victorian Government to invest in a range of programs and projects that will give people access to stable homes and better-quality housing, which we know are factors in improving people’s health and healthcare access. It is also worth highlighting the Victorian Government’s effort, through the Budget, to address insecure work by providing a funding for a pilot program to give insecure workers up to five days of sick and carers pay at the national minimum wage. We saw how insecure work led to the second wave and lockdown and we also know that insecure work can lead to health problems for those workers. The investment in addressing climate change and reducing emissions are additional factors that will improve people’s general and mental health and well-being which the government has identified as being a part of the climate health emergency.

As you can expect there has been a significant investment into the health sector in the Budget. The Budget outlines significant investment in hospital maintenance, builds and infrastructure with additional funds being put towards these sorts of projects in regional and rural Victoria. The Victorian Government has identified the need to ensure there is greater access to public health services in regional and rural Victoria as a result of the pandemic limiting travel, which limited access to health services.

There has been a quite a significant investment in mental health and recognition of the importance of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we come out of lockdown. There has also been recognition of the need to address the shortfalls in the mental health workforce. Unfortunately, this recognition appears to fail to address the need to increase the number of psychologists and again focuses on mental health nurses.

Unfortunately, the changes being pursued in pathology that we highlighted in the last edition of STAT Report do not appear to be in the Budget or included in any of the public announcements from the Health Minister. There has also been no additional funding put towards the Allied Healthcare workforce and no mention of increasing the Pharmacist workforce. These workforces will be relied on as people recovering from COVID-19 will require on-going medical care. It is also worth pointing out that these workforces are needed to keep Victorians healthy to help protect Victoria against future health emergencies.

At a first glance, there has been a significant investment in Victoria’s public healthcare system. Quite rightly the Victorian Government is looking to substantially increase access to public healthcare in regional and rural Victoria as well as in suburban Melbourne. It’s clear the government has learned from the pandemic and seen first-hand, and in real time, the deficiencies in our health system and the disruption a pandemic can cause. It is disappointing though that the details so far do not reveal a substantial investment in all our disciplines’ workforces given their importance to a well-functioning, high-quality public healthcare system.

The Union will conduct further analysis of the Budget in order to better understand where and how our disciplines are being recognised and valued, if at all.

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