Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with Nicola Roxon (left) and Justine Elliot at the question-and-answer session with dozens of community leaders and health professionals in Lismore yesterday.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with Nicola Roxon (left) and Justine Elliot at the question-and-answer session with dozens of community leaders and health professionals in Lismore yesterday. Jacklyn Wagner

Rudd to fix health system

KEVIN RUDD came to Lismore yesterday to save our health system.

By the time the Prime Minister left last night the Northern Rivers' health system remained a shambles - eased slightly by the announcement of an $8.3 million medical assessment unit, aimed at taking pressure off Lismore Base Hospital's struggling emergency department.

But a two-hour session discussing the state of health on the Northern Rivers, the things needed to fix the system, both locally and nationally, along with options for a Federal takeover of health, left the region with a way forward.

In a presentation and question-and-answer session with dozens of community leaders and health professionals at the University Department of Rural Health, Mr Rudd repeatedly described Australia's health system as being 'at a tipping point', quoting from the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission Report.

The meeting was the first in regional NSW of a travelling road show Mr Rudd is taking around the country as he builds a 'national discussion' on health and the best ways to fix it.

Mr Rudd, who raised the prospect of a Federal health takeover during the 2007 election campaign, yesterday laid out three options for Commonwealth intervention:

  • A partial takeover based around areas the Federal Government already has responsibility for, such as GPs.
  • A total takeover done in two stages, with the first being primary care and the second covering a gradual increase in responsibility for hospital funding from 40 per cent to 100pc.
  • The 'full Monty'. An instant and complete takeover of the health system by the Commonwealth. Mr Rudd pointed out this option was recommended against by the report.

Mr Rudd said a Federal takeover would add between $2.8 billion and $5.7 billion a year to the national health bill, not including the cost of public dentistry improvements.

Infrastructure funding needed to reform the health system would cost between $4.3 billion and $7.3 billion over five years, he said.

Reforming the nation's health system would be expensive, but it was also unavoidable, given the nation's growing and aging population.

“Aged care has a date with demographic destiny,” Mr Rudd said.

The forum was praised by medicos, including former Liberal MP Dr Brian Pezzutti and former Federal Nationals candidate Dr Sue Page.

However, Dr Pezzutti cautioned the Prime Minister to hold on to parts of the system that worked - or could work - such as NSW Health's funding formula.

Dr Pezzutti said that formula would give adequate funding to all NSW's area health services if it were properly applied. At present the formula was not properly applied and health services on the North Coast were suffering.

Dr Page called for changes to the way health funding was distributed, saying allied health professionals in regional areas often struggled to compete with high profile professors from national health bodies.



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