WA Health Budget – is it sustainable?

Thursday 14 Sep 2017

The Treasurer, Ben Wyatt delivered the McGowan Labor Government’s first budget on Thursday 7th September.

WA Labor made many health commitments during the State Election campaign and not all of these have been detailed in the budget. The State Government says that initial work on those commitments has commenced and they will be detailed in subsequent budgets. For details on what has and hasn’t been funded see the governments publication here.

But is the health budget “sustainable”? Given the dire state of the State’s finances it could have been worse. However, this is of little comfort for those in our community in need of health and mental health services, those on elective surgery waiting lists, those waiting for cancer treatment, those waiting for clinic appointments and the list could go on and on. It is no comfort for an already overstretched health workforce.

With the State’s finances in such a poor state, any positive growth number would be positive.  However, the new State Government have cut it fine with a paltry increase barely 1.4% more than last year’s health spend.  With inflation taken into account we are talking about a health spending increase of less than 1%.

The Budget brings particular pain to members at Health Support Services who face a 7% budget cut, with no word yet on where the savings are supposed to be made.

In their own words, the Government recognises that “...demand for health services continues to grow at a rate that exceeds sustainable capacity.” With a growing and aging population, a shortage of GPs, ever reducing use of private hospitals, and the challenges of service delivery that come with a State the size of WA, all the signs are that we wont be seeing a reduction in the demand for services anytime soon.

Demand is clearly growing, and growing at a faster rate than the budget and the size of the workforce.

The McGowan Government are telling us that the last decades near 8% annual growth in health costs will reduce to only 1% each year.  However this seems highly unlikely, with the budget destined for either a mid-year top up, or a further increase to waiting lists and waiting times.

A sustainable health system requires adequate resources and staffing.

Whilst the State Government seems to be putting a lot of faith in the Sustainable Health Review providing solutions, it appears that the health workforce can expect little respite from the budget pressures that have plagued the system for years in the meantime.

Is the Health budget sustainable? – only time will tell!

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