After COVID-19, experts say it’s ‘disappointing’ that health care isn't a bigger focus this election

This year's election campaign is different from previous years. In past years the Coalition has placed emphasis on economy and defence, whereas Labor has traditionally based their election promises on jobs and education. However, in the shadow of a once-in-a-generation pandemic, you might have thought health would be one of the key issues dominating the campaign trail.

It seems that neither party has released a detailed, standalone plan on how it will manage the pandemic in the future, including future vaccine supply, securing and distributing adequate antiviral medications and how to tackle emerging variants — which seem to be appearing every six months.

There's no national action plan from either party for a coordinated approach to tackling long COVID. And no plan to tackle post-viral illnesses such as evidence-based treatment pathways, Medicare funding for access to medical and allied health support or widespread general practitioner education.

Demand for healthcare 'underestimated'

A perfect storm is brewing in our public hospitals with a burnt-out workforce, the growing flu and COVID-19 caseload coupled with an elective surgery backlog — all of which are putting unprecedented pressure on public hospital staff across Australia.

Despite COVID blowing out operation wait times and a healthcare workforce on the verge of collapse, health care is no exception. Why are citizens and political parties so uninterested in the healthcare debate?

Ramping Crisis Increases

Overnight, Melbourne hospitals reported a surge in demand, leaving up to 70 people waiting for assistance, however, Ambulance Victoria says this is not uncommon. Overwhelmed emergency departments were unable to admit patients, therefore a code orange was declared across metropolitan Melbourne, with 39 ambulances being ramped up at one time.

Victoria's hospital system has been under significant strain for months due to staff shortages and the subsequent exhaustion of staff brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of New South Wales was the next heaviest hit, with a twofold rise, however, every state and territory is still catching up.

Healthcare Workforce Near Collapsing

Sectors with substantial labour gaps, such as nursing, are crumbling under the strain and could collapse in some regions if a mutated COVID strain outmanoeuvred current vaccines.

  • Workforce shortages result:
  • Poor service quality
  • Lower health outcomes
  • Ramping crisis
  • Fatalities that could have been avoided
  • Exhausted & overworked staff

Governments' poor personnel planning and funding restrictions over the last decade are largely to blame.

Why is healthcare not as significant as you would expect in this year's election?

Health care appears to be less essential to voters in this election. It was named the sixth most significant topic by Australian voters, down three spots from the previous election, when it was a modest third. That's understandable given the importance of major issues like climate change, rising living costs, and increased interest rates.

Health-care reform is costly, and proposing large expenditures while the budget is in deficit raises the risk of being labelled financially reckless. In the budget, the Coalition announced their health campaign, yet with no major policy announcements but a slew of minor financial commitments spread across the country. Labor leader Anthony Albanese has indicated he is willing to meet down with state premiers and engage "constructively" on the need for greater hospital money, although refuses to make any promises before the election. Qld premier, Anastasia Palaszczuk, along with all other state and territory leaders and the Australian Medical Association, has urged the federal government to extend the Commonwealth's funding guarantee to a 50-50 funding share beyond June 2023, when the existing agreement expires.

The increased cost to the Commonwealth is projected to be around $5 billion per year.

Potential solutions parties could propose

  • More money is needed to streamline processes and patient experiences, better wait-list management and prioritisation tactics, and eliminate low-value care in public hospitals.
  • Waiting times might be reduced if patients were proactively matched with hospital resources by offering them specific public hospital options. For a shorter wait, many patients will travel to a non-local hospital.
  • Hospital beds would be freed up if more money was invested in hospital-in-the-home initiatives. Increasing hospital training spaces and accelerating migration would also draw more nurse and specialist time.

Despite the fact that healthcare has been pushed as the election's sixth most significant topic, there is still a major request for help in resolving the challenges with promised actions that will improve the country's healthcare system catastrophe. The healthcare system has run out of time and is on the verge of collapsing due to the state government ignoring a plan for a surge in admissions due to covid in the last two years. Health care is a problem that must be addressed regardless of who wins.