Lobbyists say Australia’s health sector is missing an opportunity for systemic change.  

This year’s federal budget includes measures aimed at improving health services for older Australians, enhancing mental health support, and alleviating hospital pressures. 

It includes substantial investments in home care and aged care services, new Medicare urgent care clinics, and prescription medicine price freezes.

The government will allocate $2.2 billion to support the addition of 24,000 new home care places, allowing older Australians to remain in their homes rather than moving into residential care. This initiative is part of a broader strategy to implement recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. 

To further reduce hospital admissions, the budget allocates $610 million to states and territories for addressing the long-term hospital stays of older patients. 

The funding is intended to support community outreach and virtual care services. An additional $57 million will assist dementia patients in transitioning from hospital to aged care, and $25 million is earmarked for specialist palliative care services.

To enhance sector regulation, $111 million will be directed to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and $1.4 billion will be invested in upgrading digital technology systems within aged care facilities.

The government is also seeking to attract and retain aged care workers with $88.4 million in funding, expected to coincide with a decision from the Fair Work Commission on care worker wages. In total, $882 million will be given to states for programs supporting older patients in long-term hospital care.

In a bid to enhance healthcare accessibility, the government says it will establish 29 new Medicare urgent care clinics, in addition to the previously promised 58 clinics, at a cost of $227 million. 

These clinics are designed to handle non-life-threatening conditions, easing the burden on hospital emergency departments. The clinics have been praised by the government for their success in lowering emergency waiting times.

A $3 billion medicines package will freeze the prices of prescription medicines. Co-payments for prescriptions under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will remain at $7.70 for pensioners and concession cardholders, and $31.60 for the general public.

Mental health services are also a key focus. 

A new national online mental health service, scheduled to launch in 2026, will provide up to 10 free sessions annually for people with “low-intensity” mental health issues. 

This initiative, costing $888 million over eight years, aims to offer early intervention and prevent the escalation of mental health problems. 

The budget includes a $30 million boost to the Head to Health networks, which cater to people with moderate to severe mental health needs. Existing Medicare mental health walk-in centres will be upgraded to house psychiatrists, psychologists, and general practitioners.

The government has faced criticism for not addressing all recommendations from the aged care taskforce, particularly those concerning funding sustainability. This issue remains under negotiation in parliament and with the sector.

Women's health initiatives receive $56 million, targeting improved GP training for menopause treatment, access to long-acting reversible contraceptives, free period products in remote Aboriginal communities, and affordable abortion services. The budget allocates $49 million for endometriosis and complex gynaecological conditions, and $7 million for miscarriage education and awareness programs.

The government also plans to amend legislation to allow eligible nurses and midwives to prescribe PBS medicines and provide Medicare services, streamlining access to care without requiring a GP visit.

However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has expressed disappointment, describing the budget as a missed opportunity to tackle pressing health system issues. 

“There was little that was new in this year’s budget, and this represented a real loss of momentum towards a more efficient and sustainable health system,” AMA President Professor Steve Robson said.

The AMA has called for more significant reforms to general practice funding and support. 

Professor Robson criticised the government’s focus on urgent care clinics, arguing that these are not a long-term solution. 

“What we need is reform that enables general practice to deliver the primary care that our patients need, not piecemeal announcements and changes that further fragment the system,” he said.

The lobby says there is a need for better funding arrangements to address the GP shortage and to encourage more doctors to take up general practice. 

Additionally, the association was disappointed by the lack of a funded plan to address the growing wait times for planned surgeries in public hospitals.

More details are accessible here.