Covid funding to states should be extended, Daniel Andrews says

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has reignited calls for the commonwealth to extend its increased health funding for Covid, warning the effects of the pandemic will not end after winter.

But the state opposition has lashed the Andrews government, saying the pressure has been caused by “years of Labor mismanagement” prior to the pandemic.

The call for extended funding comes as pressure builds on the state government over Victoria’s over-burdened ambulance service ahead of next month’s state budget.

Depleted staffing levels in the state’s triple-zero service has left it plagued by lengthy call-wait times, with the state coroner investigating reports of people dying while waiting for calls to be picked up

The commonwealth last month extended the Covid-19 National Partnership Agreement to 30 September. The agreement supports the state and territory health systems respond to the pandemic, with a further $982.5m committed in the May federal budget.

On Friday, Andrews said Victoria required the additional funding to catch up on deferred care such as elective surgery that had been pushed back during the pandemic.

“I would again, urge the prime minister and the federal treasurer to reconsider that $1.5bn cut to health that occurs in September,” Andrews said.

“This will not be over in September.”

Under the agreement – where the commonwealth funds 50% of Covid-related health costs – Victoria received an additional $1.56bn this financial year.

Andrews said Victoria would have to deal with increased demand on the healthcare system due to people delaying routine check ups that “isn’t necessarily obvious to us now.”

“Plus, there’s a big challenge in getting elective surgery,” he said.

The state’s elective surgery waitlist ballooned during the pandemic, with 80,000 people on the elective surgery waitlist at the end of December. The Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Roderick McRae, has warned the waitlist may have risen to as high as 120,000.

The Andrews government this month unveiled a $1.5bn package to help clear the backlog of deferred elective surgery procedures

Reacting to the premier’s calls for the funding extension, the opposition’s health spokesperson, Georgie Crozier, said Victorians were “sick of Daniel Andrews’ excuses and blame shifting”.

“This crisis was caused by years of Labor mismanagement prior to Covid. To now blame shift is simply playing politics instead of pursuing the reforms needed to fix Victoria’s health crisis,” Crozier said.

Stephen Duckett, a former head of the federal department of health, said the 50:50 funding model should remain in place to help states catch up on elective surgeries that had been paused to ensure there was enough hospital capacity for Covid patients.

“You don’t want to make it unlimited, but you might say it goes at least into the next financial year,” he said.

The Age reported in February that the governments of NSW, Victoria and Queensland had all petitioned the commonwealth for a 50:50 funding split for all costs. Under the current agreement, the federal government contributes 45% of hospital funding, but also places a cap when growth rises above 6.5%.

The Australian Medical Association – which supports a 50:50 split – has estimated the change and removal of the cap would cost the commonwealth $20.5bn across a four-year period.

A spokesperson for the federal health minister, Greg Hunt – who will leave politics after next month’s election – said the Coalition had doubled funding for public hospitals since it was elected in 2013.

“Two weeks ago, in the 2022-23 budget, the Morrison government boosted public hospital funding by a record $10bn over four years, a record single investment into health by any government in Australian history,” the spokesperson said.

“Despite commonwealth funding more than doubling since 2012-13, Victorian government funding for their own hospitals has only grown by 69%. There is nothing stopping the Victorian government funding their hospitals appropriately by matching the commonwealth’s growth in funding.”

The latest report by the national productivity watchdog found Victoria spends less money for each person in the public hospital system than any other jurisdiction in the country and fell below the national average on key benchmarks even before the pandemic began.

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