Peak medical groups are calling on both major parties to up their spending in Canberra’s hospitals and primary care, as they lament Labor’s failure to deliver its flagship election promise from 2016.
Australian Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners say the major parties need to tell voters where they stand on the long-term funding model of ACT’s health system.
The association ACT president, Antonio Di Dio, said he was disappointed Labor had failed to deliver on SPIRE – the Canberra Hospital expansion project.
It was a key pledge in the lead up to the 2016 election, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr promising to begin work on the $500 million project before the next election.
But a sod is yet to be turned, with the expected completion date now in 2024.
Dr Di Dio said the party’s excuse that the delays were due to changes made during consultation was not acceptable.
“I think it’s an extraordinary excuse,” he said.
“If you promise to deliver something at a particular time, part of the delivery is the consultation process.
“If you don’t think you can deliver it in time don’t promise it.”
The groups’ statement of election issues pointed to analysis from former chief minister Jon Stanhope and treasury official Khalid Ahmed, which suggests Canberra’s health system has been chronically underfunded over the past 10 years.
Dr Di Dio said both Labor and The Liberals should respond to the claims.
“If the Liberals are going to use it to critisise the government, they need to say how they would change the ACT’s funding model,” he said.
Walk-in centre debate
The doctors’ groups have long been critical of Labor’s nurse-led walk in centre model.
They have criticised Labor’s pledge to deliver five more if they are reelected.
“We know the current walk-in centres are expensive and a poor substitute for our Canberra community having affordable access to high quality primary care, including general practice,” the election statement said.
“In our view it’s time for a far greater focus on better integration of care for our ACT community and we call on the major parties to commit to implementing models of integrated care for patients with chronic cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular skeletal and mental health conditions in the first two years of the next term of government.”
The groups called on the next government to improve mental health care in both the community and hospital settings.
They suggested introducing mental health nurses into general practice as well as a GP mental health liaison officer at each hospital.
“We should also aim to reduce the pressure that mental health care places on crisis services and our emergency departments,” it read.
“When a patient does need hospital care or specialist psychiatric services, we need to ensure that care can be accessed in a timely and appropriate manner.”
Has the government delivered?
Asked to rate the government’s performance in the health sector over the past four years, Dr Di Dio said it had done well to engage with clinicians to improve the culture of its public hospitals.
“But we are very disappointed the promised SPIRE centre has not been delivered,” he said.
“We are also disappointed in the way they are putting money into walk-in centres.
“But the government has decided they are absolutely committed to walk in centres.
“We are desperate to work with them to make sure the taxpayers get value for money and the process is done in a transparent and appropriate fashion.”
Dr Di Dio welcomed the Liberals’ $120 million pledge to increase elective surgery and add eight hybrid theatres to the SPIRE.
“The frustrating thing is that SPIRE is an undelivered promise,” he said.
“They are making a promise on top of an undelivered government promise.”