• 14th May 2024

Federal budget a bitter pill to swallow for paramedics

In the past two years, Australia's Federal Government has explicitly lent its support for multidisciplinary team-based healthcare inclusive of the paramedic workforce, cognisant that such models represent the future of Australia’s health landscape in addressing the challenges facing health systems nationally and in delivering more holistic and responsive person-centred care and improving overall public health outcomes.

Yet despite paramedics being specifically mentioned in the previous budget, in the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce Report, and in the national Unleashing the Potential of our Health Workforce Scope of Practice Review, the 2024 budget reverts to yet another iteration of traditional models of care focused on GPs and nurses, overlooking the vital role paramedics play in propping up the nation’s ailing health system.

Access to primary healthcare relies on the availability of healthcare workers. Data available in the Australian Institute of Healthcare Workforce shows a declining growth in nurses and GPs, particularly in rural and regional areas despite costly incentive programs and targeted international recruitment for more than 10 years (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2023).

The government has already identified paramedics as a key health workforce as part of its previously proposed reforms, equipped with the skills and capabilities needed to add a new dimension of patient care that in turn eases pressure on overburdened GPs and nurses across a range of different practice settings.

Aged care, mental health, urgent care, primary health networks, rural and remote clinics are all mentioned in the budget. Paramedics are not, despite providing care across all these areas; they are the link between the government’s much touted “wrap-around care”. This should translate into support for a profession that is the link between primary, urgent and emergency healthcare.

Placement poverty is also very real for paramedic students as it is for other health professions, particularly in rural and remote areas. The budget implies that the government has also turned its back on the next generation of paramedics.

Given the much-publicised health workforce shortages across the sector and the commensurate negative impacts on ambulance services struggling with long wait times and ramping, there is a pressing need for genuine reform that is focused on easing the burdens on our frontline health workers, attracting and retaining more clinicians from different health disciplines, and ensuring all Australians have access to high-quality, comprehensive healthcare services and personnel. This is particularly critical for communities in rural, regional and remote areas of the country that have long been deprived of the level of care and services available to their urban counterparts. Paramedics are the unrecognised health workforce meeting the health needs of communities where traditional models of care are failing them.

Instead of adequately funding “home-grown” paramedics and allied health professions to deliver innovative models of team-based healthcare, this budget has allocated $90 million to address the health workforce shortages by making it simpler and quicker for international health practitioners to work in Australia – an initiative that to date has proved unsuccessful.

It's abundantly clear by now that this approach isn’t working. The government has talked the talk, but as this budget demonstrates, it’s not walking the walk. Nothing will be solved by perpetuating the status quo. The way forward is multidisciplinary, team-based healthcare, including paramedics. The government must look ahead, not behind to a system that has already failed so many Australians.

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