Last week the Victorian Government handed down it 2023-24 Budget.
Unlike previous years, there was a conspicuous absence of the usual leaks ahead of the Budget being introduced to Parliament. This year there were only a handful of carefully dropped leaks, but they were the kind of things expected, infrastructure and healthcare, and not helpful in revealing what might be in the budget.
The Victorian State Budget this year does not promise big spending as it has in previous budget cycles. This budget is more focused on returning to surplus while maintaining funding for previously identified projects and areas of priority.
This year’s State Budget, in short, has nothing significant for members other than the maintenance of funding for projects announced in previous years; and additional recurring funding.
There has been no additional dedicated funding put towards expanding our disciplines’ workforces to address the clear shortfalls in but there is more encouragement for people to enter our disciplines. The clear workforce shortfalls are seemingly being acknowledged; however, these do not relate directly to our membership, which the emphasis continuing to be on nurses.
The Budget papers clearly show the Victorian Government is well aware of the shortfalls in the mental health workforce and the capacity of the public health system to respond in a pandemic, and now in the so-called post-COVID era.
However, the funding identified in the Budget to expand Victoria’s mental health workforce only maintains recurring funding and does not expand the existing budget allocations.
While there has been funding set aside in mental health to address the workforce shortfalls, albeit with an emphasis on counsellors and mental health nurses, there has not been the same sort of funding (or commitment to funding) set aside to address the workforce shortfalls in our other disciplines.
Funding for mental health is recurring funding already committed in earlier budgets, including recurring funding allocated to adopting and implementing the Royal Commission recommendations.
There is also a lack of clarity in the Budget about funding towards the reforms in pathology in public hospitals, however further analysis of additional budget papers is required to determine if funding for the pathology reforms may be delivered through other existing or proposed Departmental funding sources.
The Budget also provides no identifiable new funding for hospital pharmacists or public hospital pharmacies.
However, there is funding being provided to expand the care services offered by community pharmacies; and efforts to ease the burden of seeing a general practitioner and medications.
The Victorian Government has put a substantial amount of funding towards health infrastructure.
It is clear that the government witnessed first-hand and in real time the deficiencies in the health system’s infrastructure and its ability cope with the need to rapidly scale-up to meet a pandemic level threat to the community. It has committed to funding new health services and hospitals, especially in regional and rural Victoria.
The funding announced has not been new investment but rather additional top-up funding to ensure the completion of announced projects.
Health and safety of the healthcare workforce is a pressing issue for the Victorian Government given the importance placed on funding for maintaining the PPE stockpile. There has been additional funding provided but this is on top of existing recurring funding increases already made in previous Budgets.
While there has been some additional funding announced, there is very little new funding in Allied Health and specifically our disciplines.
Sadly, the 2023-24 Victorian State Budget provides little to celebrate for members.