State and territories are bracing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds for public hospitals and preventive health as the new financial year looms.Tuesday marks the expiry date of national partnership agreements (NPAs) on health as well as other funding initiatives such as a 24-hour legal helpline for Indigenous detainees and programs for perinatal depression. Other funding agreements, such as one on community legal centres, have just been renegotiated in the fortnight before they were due to expire.
The NPAs on improving public hospitals and preventive health will not be renewed after almost $4bn was committed over the past five years. The end of the preventive health agreement was announced in the 2014-15 budget, bringing forward its expiry from 2017, but some states had hoped to renegotiate it.
Gavin Jennings, Victoria’s acting minister for health, accused the federal government of shirking its responsibilities on funding public hospitals.
“These cuts are on top of the $17.7bn the Abbott government wants to cut from our public hospitals. They will have a devastating impact on our health system,” he said, referring to the looming reduction in health and education funding for states from 2017 foreshadowed in the federal budget.
“You simply cannot make these drastic cuts and not expect waiting times to increase, waiting lists to grow, and Victorians to get sicker,” Jennings said.
Jillian Skinner, the New South Wales health minister, said: “Health funding will be top of the agenda when the prime minister and premiers meet in July and I will continue to have constructive discussions with my state and territory counterparts.”
Skinner pointed out the 2014-15 NSW budget provided $220m to retain patient services previously funded by the commonwealth under the Improving Public Hospital Services and Long Stay Older Patients NPAs.
Another $19.5m was provided to continue programs previously funded by the commonwealth under the preventive health NPA to to tackle obesity, and promote healthy eating and physical activity in children and adults.
The South Australian health minister, Jack Snelling, said the state could not cover the health funding gaps.
“The commonwealth government’s decision to cut the Improving Public Hospital Services and Preventive Health NPAs has cost South Australia approximately $45m a year,” he said.
“Programs supporting some of our most vulnerable people, including palliative care and mental health patients, will come to an end or be significantly reduced as a result.”
Queensland’s health minister, Cameron Dick, said the NPA on Indigenous early childhood development would end on Tuesday. The partnership agreement on the national perinatal depression initiative, which helped identify early signs of depression in new parents, would also end.
BeyondBlue was heavily involved in the initiative, which was worth a total of $85m in funding over five years, and said on its website the agreement aimed “to provide better care, support and treatment for expectant and new mothers experiencing perinatal depression”. BeyondBlue declined to comment on the agreement ending.
Since 2008 the custody notification service, which is run by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, has been funded through one-off grants by the federal government but the attorney general, George Brandis, said it was not being defunded. Funding for it was just being shifted to another pool, he said.
The federal government has also re-signed a funding agreement for community legal centres, a fortnight before the current agreement was going to expire. The agreement will see a rise in funding over the next two years before a 25% cut for some centres from 2017.