When telehealth became permanent for Australians during the pandemic under the former Coalition Government, it provided a lifeline for patients in regional communities.
The new Labor Minister for Health and Aged Care has decided to discontinue funding to critical Telehealth features such as phone consultations over 20 minutes, initial specialist consultations, plus some disability and mental health services.
The Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Federal Member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster said this is a travesty and provides evidence of how out of touch the Albanese Government is with rural Australians.
Dr Webster said she agreed with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), who have urged the Labor Government to reinstate the funding to these services, arguing that it will inflate the burden on the hospital system and undermine patient access to doctors.
“The removal of these Telehealth services would exacerbate the strain on under resourced services and decrease the accessibility of health care for rural, regional and remote Australians, including those who live with a disability and the elderly,” Dr Webster said
“When telehealth was first introduced, it targeted the health inequity experienced in regional, rural and remote locations. When access to the service was expanded under the Coalition Government the benefits were acutely felt in the regions.
“In every town in Mallee, finding a doctor is an ongoing frustration. I have long advocated for multi-faceted solutions that help alleviate the disadvantage and inequity experienced everyday by people in regional communities. Telehealth has unquestionably provided one of these solutions.
“Throughout the pandemic the most vulnerable have required timely access to healthcare and medical advice more than ever. Now access to time critical anti-viral medication will potentially be impeded by the removal of Telehealth (telephone) long consultation Medicare item numbers. Anti-virals must be carefully managed in the context of existing medications with potential dangerous interactions needing appropriate expert consideration. This often requires long consultations. In addition, many elderly patients have difficulty accessing or using video technology, and poor connectivity can result in landline consultations being the only option for remote patients. This is being removed under Labor.
“While the previous government forecast changes to Telehealth post COVID, the ongoing presence of COVID and other winter viruses, should make the Albanese Government reconsider what has been a successful strategy and approach for many regional communities who will now be disproportionately and detrimentally impacted. This government needs to make sure that all Australians have a health service that is fit for purpose. This decision reveals how out of touch the Albanese Government is with regional communities.”
“I’m calling on the Federal Government to listen to the current needs of regional communities and reinstate the funding of these services without delay. Our regional people experience enough barriers to health care and treatment. The last thing they need is for more services to be taken away.”