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Health

The Australian Government continues to support Australians living in regional, rural and remote areas through a number of new initiatives funded in the 2020-21 Budget, including those in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the barriers to accessing healthcare services and adequate distribution of doctors and health professionals continue to be the core focus for regional health. Australians, no matter where they live, deserve access to high quality health care services. In Australia our challenge is not about having an undersupply of doctors, but it is about getting doctors and health professionals to where they are most needed – outside of our capital cities and into rural, regional and remote areas.

The Government continues to build on a range of reforms, including the Stronger Rural Health Strategy and is committed to taking action to improve access to primary care and address workforce issues in rural communities. The 2020-21 Budget invests in innovative trials to test new ways of delivering health services across smaller connected communities. This will inform options for broader primary care reform in rural Australia. The trials recognise that new approaches to primary care rely on collaboration between locally based providers and communities, and governments sharing responsibility for supporting innovative and sustainable approaches. The National Rural Health Commissioner will play an integral role in the implementation and evaluation of these primary care trials.

The Government is committed to expanding rural training through the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program which provides rural training opportunities that increases the likelihood of graduates staying in rural communities as health professionals. The existing network of 16 University Departments of Rural Health will be expanded to provide training to students across a range of health disciplines (nursing and allied health) and offer innovative learning opportunities across a range of health settings.

The expansion of telehealth has been a revolution in the delivery of primary care, particularly for regional communities. To date, more than 31 million telehealth services have been delivered, to over 10 million Australians since telehealth was included as part of the Government’s initial COVID-19 response. This Budget extends the telehealth services for a further six months while the long term design is developed in conjunction with medical groups and the community. Telehealth for specialists and allied health has also been extended.

The Government is committed to rural and remote reform and is expanding and continuing the office of the National Rural Health Commissioner. The Commissioner will be assisted by Deputy Commissioner positions to provide further support and expertise across a range of rural health disciplines including nursing, allied health and Indigenous health. This expansion will ensure rural health initiatives are integrated and achieving practical outcomes in regional Australia. The office will have a key role in strengthening the rural training pathway and provide advice on new multidisciplinary and integrated approaches to delivering primary care in rural and remote areas.

The Government is committed to investing in Aged Care services including $422.9 million to support approved residential aged care providers including Multi-Purpose services and services under the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, $191.6 million will fund Commonwealth Home Support Programme providers to deliver in-home aged care services to clients in Aged Care Planning Regions in metropolitan and regional areas across Australia.

Senior Australians in regional Australia will be helped to live at home for longer. The Government is investing $1.6 billion to provide 23,000 more home care packages in response to the clear preference of many senior Australians to receive aged care in their own home. This brings the total number of additional home care packages to more than 73,000, an investment of $4.6 billion, since the 2018-19 Budget.

Alongside increased investment for headspace and other mental health services in the 2020-21 Budget, there is specific funding to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians affected by COVID-19. This includes an additional $47.3 million to provide mental health support for Victorians including through enhanced telephone and online services and establishing dedicated mental health clinics across the greater Melbourne region and regional Victoria.

Those living in regional Australia are receiving the benefits of the $377.5 million investment in this Budget to maintain up to 150 General Practitioner led respiratory clinics through to 31 March 2021. More than half of these clinics are located outside of metropolitan areas to ensure a geographical reach that covers 99 per cent of the Australian population. They are dedicated to assessment and testing services and play a significant role in containing COVID-19.

As at 30 June 2020, the Health Portfolio employed 6,334 people under the Public Service Act 1999. Of this total 5,459 staff (86.2 per cent) are employed in Canberra, central Melbourne and central Sydney, 872 staff (13.8 per cent) in other capital cities and three staff are in other locations.

New initiatives

Strengthening Primary Care – Innovative Models of Primary Care to Address Rural Workforce Shortages

The Australian Government is investing $3.3 million over two years from 2020-21 to support five trials in multiple sites across regional New South Wales (NSW) to trial innovative, multidisciplinary primary care approaches aimed at alleviating ongoing workforce shortages, ensuring access to health services and improving health outcomes in these communities.

This measure extends well developed proof-of-concept pilots into fully operational models, customised to address the primary care issues in each trial site. The trials will build on and better integrate existing resources to deliver services in a more effective and sustainable way within a region. This includes multi-disciplinary team approaches and different employment models ensuring appropriate access to health services in rural and remote communities.

The trials complement work by the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner, who will work with a number of regions, including outside of NSW, to support development of ‘trial ready’ and localised innovative models of care. Together, these initiatives will support the development of a range of targeted and innovative approaches to the delivery of primary health care that reflect the unique needs of communities to address ongoing rural workforce challenges.

Strengthening Primary Care – Extension of the National Rural Health Commissioner Office

The Australian Government invested $11.2 million over four years from 2020-21, and $2.1 million per year on an ongoing basis from 2024-25, demonstrating commitment to rural and remote reform by locking in and expanding the office of the National Rural Health Commissioner (the Commissioner).

The Commissioner will take a system-wide view of rural health, representing doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, to ensure rural health initiatives are delivering outcomes for Australians who live in rural, regional and remote areas. The expanded National Rural Health Commissioner Office will now include Deputy Commissioners to support the Commissioner and provide expertise across a range of vital rural health disciplines such as nursing, allied health and Indigenous health. The Commissioner will focus on developing tangible and innovative reform by working with stakeholders in the regions to develop proposals for trialling innovative models of primary care to address ongoing and acute workforce shortages.

The rural health workforce, and rural and remote communities, will benefit from this investment which places the health issues which affect them at the forefront of Government decision making.

New legislation to support this ongoing and expanded role for the Commissioner passed both Houses of Parliament on 18 June 2020 and received Royal Assent 25 June 2020.

The current National Rural Health Commissioner, Associate Professor Ruth Stewart, was appointed on 3 July 2020 for a two year term.

Guaranteeing Medicare – Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program Infrastructure

The Government is investing $50.3 million over four years from 2020–21 on the long‑standing Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) Program. This investment will build the rural training pipeline for allied health students and graduates to deliver health, aged care and disability services in rural communities.

The national evaluation of the RHMT program was completed earlier this year and found that the program has a direct economic benefit to communities and regions: for every dollar spent on the program, another dollar is generated in the local economy. Evidence demonstrates that providing rural training opportunities increases the likelihood of graduates staying in rural communities as health professionals.

The existing network of 16 University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH), which are funded under the RHMT Program, will be expanded. UDRHs provide training to students across a range of health disciplines (nursing and allied health) and offer innovative learning opportunities in settings including aged care, disability and rehabilitation services, childcare, schools, community facilities, as well as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

The package provides for capital works and recurrent funding. The capital works projects will invest funding through purchase of housing for student accommodation and building works to add teaching facilities to aged care services. The four elements of the package are:

  • Funding one new UDRH to increase RHMT coverage.
  • Funding five projects to increase training in more remote settings (through existing UDRHs. These would range from Modified Monash 3 (large rural towns) through to Modified Monash 7 (very remote communities).
  • Funding five projects in aged care services to provide dedicated teaching spaces and partner with one or more UDRH to manage the training of nursing and allied health students.
  • Funding a feasibility study to identify best approaches to increase dental and oral health training in regional locations.

Guaranteeing Medicare and Access to Medicines - Rural, Regional and Remote Clinical Trial Enabling Infrastructure Program

The Australian Government is investing $125 million from 2020-21 to 2024-25 to improve the health of Australians in rural, remote and regional areas through access to innovative clinical trials. The Rural, Regional and Remote Clinical Trial Enabling Infrastructure Program removes barriers to participating in clinical trials by:

  • improving facilities, equipment, services and systems in rural, regional and remote Australia
  • reducing the burden, costs and risks for patients and their families related to clinical trial participation
  • increasing research capacity.

This grant program, funded under the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), is giving patients access to clinical trials where they live.

Supporting Our Hospitals – Block Funding for Small Rural and Regional Hospitals

The Australian Government, together with the state and territory governments, signed the Addendum to the National Health Reform Agreement for the years 2020-21 to 2024‑25 which will provide an additional $33.6 billion for public hospitals.

Under the new five year Addendum, the Government is investing an estimated $6 billion over five years from 2020-21 in block funding contributions to states and territories to support services provided by small, rural and regional hospitals. This funding ensures rural and regional communities continue to have access to vital public hospital services.

Ageing and Aged Care – Providing More Home Care Packages

The Australian Government is continuing to increase its support for elderly Australians to stay in their homes for longer by investing in additional home care packages. A further $1.6 billion over four years from 2020-21 has been committed in the 2020-21 Budget for an additional 23,000 home care packages. This investment builds on:

  • The 2019-20 MYEFO measure Aged Care – response to the Aged Care Royal Commission Interim Report and ongoing aged care reforms that provided an additional investment of $496.3 million for 10,000 home care packages.
  • The 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update July 2020 measure Ageing and Aged Care that provided an additional investment of $347.4 million over five years from 2020-21 (including $21.8 million in 2024-25) for the release of an additional 6,105 home care packages across three package levels.

The Government has now invested an additional $4.6 billion in more than 73,000 home care packages since the 2018-19 Budget.

This additional investment will support Senior Australians in regional and remote Australia who have expressed a strong preference to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible.

Ageing and Aged Care – Commonwealth Continuity of Support Programme and Disability Support for Older Australians – funding to older people with disability

The Australian Government is investing an additional $153 million over four years from 2020-1 for both the Commonwealth Continuity of Support (CoS) Programme ($27.7 million in 2020-21, announced on 27 July 2020), and its replacement from 1 July 2021, the new Commonwealth Disability Support for Older Australians (DSOA) Program (total of $125.3 million).

In 2020-21, new funding to CoS is providing clients with increased needs access to higher levels of services, and extending the CoS Accommodation Management Grant until 30 June 2021.

From 2021-22, with increased funding, the DSOA program will deliver a more client-centred program to around 3,600 clients.

Both CoS and DSOA are closed programs that support older people with a disability who were in state administered care and not eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Providers in regional areas for these programs will continue to deliver specialist disability services to clients in their local region. Maintaining providers in regional areas provides more choice to those clients.

COVID-19 Pandemic Health Response

Ageing and Aged Care – Supporting Residential Aged Care

The Australian Government is investing $422.9 million over two years from 2019–20 on the COVID‑19 pandemic support supplement that is paid to approved providers of residential aged care including Multi-Purpose services and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program. This includes a lump sum of $205.3 million in 2019-20 and $217.6 million in 2020-21. The payments support the provision of residential aged care to senior Australians by supporting providers with the additional costs associated with COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic support supplement, announced on 20 May 2020, provided lump sum payments for each resident in care, with a higher amount paid in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia. The first payment was made in June 2020 at a rate of around $1,350 per resident in all areas of Australia outside major metropolitan areas compared with around $900 in major metropolitan areas.

The second COVID-19 pandemic support supplement, announced on 31 August 2020, will be paid in October 2020 at a rate of around $1,435 per resident in non-major metropolitan areas and around $975 in major metropolitan areas.

Ageing and Aged Care – Aged Care Continuity of Workforce – Increase to the Viability Supplement in Residential and Home Care

The Government is investing $52.7 million over two years from 2019–20 in a temporary 30 per cent increase to the rate of viability supplement that is paid to approved providers of residential aged care and home care. An equivalent amount is paid to providers of Multi-Purpose services and to National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program providers.

The viability support supplement is paid per care recipient per day for smaller, residential services located in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia. It is also paid for home care recipients receiving care in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia.

  • $25.3 million was announced on 20 March 2020 for the first temporary 30 per cent increase to the viability supplement, paid from 1 March 2020 to 31 August 2020.
  • An additional $27.4 million was announced on 31 August 2020 for the continuation of the temporary 30 per cent increase to the viability supplement, paid from 1 September 2020 to 28 February 2021.

The temporary increases to the viability supplement rates recognises the additional costs involved in providing care to senior Australians in rural, regional and remote areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ageing and Aged Care – Commonwealth Home Support Programme

On 20 March 2020 and 31 August 2020 the Government announced $120.2 million and $71.4 million, respectively, to enable Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) providers to redirect their activities towards support for COVID-19 pandemic priorities, and provide in-home aged care services to CHSP clients in Aged Care Planning Regions in metropolitan and regional areas across Australia. Of this funding, $70 million was available in 2019-20 and $121.6 million is available for 2020-21.

As a demand driven program, the CHSP package includes a number of measures to support clients:

  • $70.2 million, announced on 20 March 2020, to fund short-term support for CHSP providers to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • $50 million, announced on 31 March 2020, to support CHSP meals providers to increase their capacity to support older Australians who are isolated in their home with prepared meals.
  • $71.4 million, announced on 31 August 2020, to fund Short-Term Home Support for Older Australians on Leave from Residential Aged Care.

Prioritising Mental Health – Supporting Mental Health Nationally through additional Psychological Therapies

The Australian Government is investing $100.8 million over two years from 2020-21 to provide additional Medicare-subsidised psychological sessions under the Better Access national initiative for Australians experiencing mental health issues because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will provide up to 10 Additional psychological therapy sessions each year for patients with an existing Mental Health Treatment Plan. This includes people in regional Australia to continue to access essential mental health treatment and support. This includes the $7.3 million in 2020-21 announced by the Government on 2 August 2020 specifically to support Victorians to access these additional services.

Prioritising Mental Health – Supporting the Mental Health of Australians through the Coronavirus Pandemic

On 29 March 2020, the Australian Government announced $74 million over two years from 2019-20 to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians through the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a $1.1 billion package to boost and support more mental health, Medicare, domestic violence services and emergency food relief. This package provides careful, targeted and practical measures to support Australians’ mental health and wellbeing during this crisis, including those living in rural and regional areas.

A number of services were introduced or scaled up to support early intervention and vulnerable groups, including a range of digital health options, which are accessible to all Australians, but are particularly important in regional areas that have challenges accessing mental health supports face to face. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of trusted digital mental health services in supporting Australians living in rural and regional areas.

As part of the package an information campaign will reach rural and regional Australians on maintaining mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic; expand the Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health, which provides access to free and low cost phone and online mental health services and supports irrespective of geographical barriers.

Prioritising Mental Health – Additional Mental Health Supports for Victorians

The Government is investing $47.3 million over two years to provide additional mental health support to Victorians. This package includes a component supporting regional Victorians through the establishment of six dedicated mental health clinics across regional Victoria, a dedicated 1800 triaging service and provides funding to support commissioned mental health services in Victorian Primary Health Network regions.

The measure also increases access to digital support for vulnerable groups, including people in regional Victoria experiencing significant challenges during the additional COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. A dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health support line (Yarning Safe and Strong) will expand to provide text based support. Others supported through this measure are those experiencing an eating disorder and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex + community.

Strengthening Primary Care – COVID-19 GP Led Respiratory Clinics

On 11 March 2020, the Australian Government announced it would invest $206.7 million over two years from 2019-20 to establish 150 General Practitioner (GP) led Respiratory Clinics (GPRCs). Over half of these clinics, 83, were established outside of metropolitan areas. The placement of these GPRCs has ensured a geographic reach that covers 99 per cent of the Australian population. On 18 September 2020, the Australian Government announced it would invest a further $170.8 million to extend this measure by six months to 31 March 2021, taking total investment to $377.5 million.

The GPRCs were established to provide dedicated assessment and testing services to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms. The GPRCs are a vital part of the Government’s strategy to keep the health system functioning – providing a safe and specialised service for people who have respiratory symptoms while preserving hospitals for people with severe injuries and disease, and general practices for usual care and chronic disease management.

The 31 Primary Health Networks, which cover all regions of Australia including rural and remote areas, worked with local hospital networks, general practices and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to identify the best sites, and to develop mobile models where appropriate. The National Rural Health Commissioner also provided assistance to identify sites. Efforts were made to ensure the network of GPRCs complements the location and scope of state and territory testing clinics (GPRCs providing a full assessment, not just a testing service), with a particular focus on regional and rural areas where these clinics might be the only available service.

As part of this funding, $8.3 million was provided to the National Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation to support its Sector Support Organisations member services and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services to coordinate efforts around Australia’s COVID-19 pandemic response, and in particular facilitate cultural safety measures in the respiratory clinics.

Strengthening Primary Care – COVID-19 Remote Community Preparedness and Retrieval

On 13 March 2020, the Australian Government announced $57.8 million over two years from 2019-20 ($29.1 million in 2019-20 and $28.7 million in 2020-21) to support rural and remote communities to minimise the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19, increase their capacity to evacuate early cases, and enable an effective response if an outbreak occurs.

The measure:

  • Supports planning and preparedness activities in rural and remote communities, including increased screening protocols to reduce travel.
  • Assists with early retrieval and evacuation for people with potential COVID-19, staffed mobile respiratory clinics and remote health service support.

The grants to rural and remote communities enable communities to engage in preparedness activities as prioritised and determined by the community. The early evacuation of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases allows isolation of cases where no or minimal quarantine facilities exist, which is essential to effectively contain any outbreaks in these locations.

Strengthening Primary Care – Central Patient COVID-19 Triage Hotline

On 11 March 2020, the Australian Government announced it would invest $50.7 million over two years from 2019-20 to establish a 24/7 national hotline to help triage patients with respiratory symptoms, or people who are concerned about contact with a possible COVID-19 case, to the appropriate setting. On 18 September 2020, the Australian Government announced it would invest a further $6.8 million to extend this measure by six months to 31 March 2021, taking total investment to $57.5 million.

Regional Australians who would otherwise be presenting at hospital emergency departments or GP clinics or who may not have close access to a physical facility are given advice over the phone by trained health professionals. Depending on their circumstances, people may be advised to attend a public hospital respiratory clinic, a Primary Care Respiratory Clinic, to self‑isolate at home (in case of asymptomatic contacts of likely cases), to seek a medical practitioner telehealth consultation, or to take no further action.

The hotline will also provide facilities to support telehealth consultations, where providers or patients may not have access to the appropriate information and communications technology, and maintain a comprehensive national directory of available health services.

Strengthening Primary Care – COVID-19 Remote Point of Care Testing Program in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

On 18 September 2020, as part of a $2 billion package to extend critical health services across Australia, the Australian Government announced further investment to provide rapid testing for COVID‑19 in 86 rural and remote communities in Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. The Australian Government is investing a further $4 million in 2020-21, building on an initial investment of $5.8 million for the Point of Care Testing (POCT) Program in 2019-20, bringing total funding over two years to $9.8 million.

Key components of this program are to:

  • Ensure primary care services are no more than 2-3 hours’ drive away from a testing location.
  • Reduce the need to transport suspect and/or confirmed COVID-19 patients from remote clinics to larger regional centres.

The POCT Program provides one of the key elements of remote community preparedness and response, enabling early identification of cases. The POCT Program also allows local health services to respond quickly and decisively if COVID-19 is detected in their communities, which is essential to effectively contain any outbreaks in these locations.

Prioritising Mental Health – Bushfire Response

Supporting the Mental Health of Australians Affected by Bushfires

On 12 January 2020, the Australian Government announced $76.1 million over three years from 2019–20 to support primarily regional communities affected by the 2019-20 bushfires. The package includes the following key areas supporting regional Australians:

  • Provision of immediate frontline emergency distress and trauma counselling sessions New Medicare Benefits Schedule items available for up to 10 face-to-face and/or telehealth Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions.
  • Training in trauma informed care and psychological first aid for frontline emergency staff and to organisations managing frontline emergency staff to identify personnel at risk.
  • Bushfire Trauma Response Coordinators employed in nine severely fire affected Primary Health Network regions to provide a single point of contact for individuals and communities.
  • Development of a National Disaster Mental Health Framework to guide national preparedness to deliver effective mental health supports in response to future national disasters.
  • Expansion of mental health services through Primary Health Networks to meet increased demand and any specific local needs of bushfire-affected communities; and administer community grants of up to $10,000 each to strengthen social connectedness and resilience.

Lifeline Australia and Kids Helpline – Boosting Support for People Affected by Bushfires

On 30 January 2020, the Australian Government announced it would invest $2 million in 2019-20 to enable Lifeline Australia to establish a dedicated helpline (13HELP) for individuals impacted by the 2019-20 bushfire crisis, including the development of communication activities to promote this service and to boost the capacity of Kids Helpline to respond to increased demand as a result of the bushfire crisis. This provides support for individuals affected by the bushfires, including in regional areas, to access the mental health support they need and provides easy access by phone from all localities.

The bushfire crisis has had a direct impact on regional Australia, and a major effect on the lives of individuals, children, families and communities. While targeted communication activities is occurring in bushfire impacted areas, the services are available to all Australians who have been impacted by the bushfires in some way. Boosting support to Lifeline Australia and the Kids Helpline service has increased responsiveness to the community in this time of need.

Community Wellbeing and Participation

The Australian Government is investing $13.4 million over two years from 2020-21 for Primary Health Networks to deliver the Community Wellbeing and Participation measure. Under this measure, nine of the most severely affected Primary Health Networks will increase the delivery of non-clinical supports in fire-affected communities based on the needs of the local region.

A significant proportion of the Community Wellbeing and Participation measure is being delivered in rural and remote areas of Australia including: South Eastern New South Wales; Nepean Blue Mountains, New South Wales; Gippsland (Victoria); and Country South Australia.

Prioritising Mental Health – headspace

The Australian Government is continuing to invest in expanding and enhancing the national headspace network with a focus on regional areas. This includes investing:

  • $30 million over four years from 2020-21, to support the 2019 election commitment to provide 10 new or expanded headspace services primarily in regional locations across Australia.
  • $18.9 million over five years from 2019-20 to support a number of enhancements to the national headspace network such as upgrading satellite services in the regional towns of Emerald and Roma to full centres, and extending funding for the Schools Suicide Prevention Activities Program run by the headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation to June 2022.

Prioritising Mental Health – Supporting Transition of Psychosocial Support Clients to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

The Australian Government is investing $28.4 million in 2020-21 to continue to support former clients of ceased Australian Government community mental health programs with severe mental illness, and associated psychosocial disorders. These clients, will receive psychosocial support and assistance to develop an application to test their eligibility for the NDIS. The package also includes a regional weighting to funding to support service delivery in regional and remote areas.

Prioritising Mental Health – Supporting Clients of National Psychosocial Support Programs

The Australian Government is investing $13.4 million in 2020-21 to support Australians with severe mental illness and associated psychosocial disorders access a level of support consistent with their needs.

Weightings are applied to funding for regional services to encourage service delivery in these communities. Clients of Australian Government psychosocial support programs in regional communities will also benefit from better integration of psychosocial services with other clinical and non-clinical supports through engagement with local service navigators.

Prioritising Mental Health – Expansion of the StandBy Support after Suicide Service

The Australian Government is investing $10 million over two years from 2020-21 to expand the StandBy Support After Suicide (StandBy) Service, with the aim of increasing access to support for Australians bereaved by suicide.

The StandBy service is a community-based suicide bereavement service that provides direct support to individuals and communities affected by suicide. The service also connects people to services, groups and organisations within their local area as well as providing tailored community workshops and education programs to increase awareness of suicide and suicide bereavement.

The StandBy service currently operates in select locations of Australia. This measure will support the expansion of the service into new locations, including rural and regional areas of Australia.

Prioritising Mental Health – Expansion of the Beyond Blue Way Back Support Service

The Australian Government is investing an additional $7 million over two years from 2020-21 to expand The Way Back Support Service (Way Back) aftercare model in Victoria. The expansion will enable an additional eight Way Back aftercare sites to be funded in selected Primary Health Network regions and in collaboration with the Victorian Government. This investment is in addition to $37.6 million over four years agreed in the 2018-19 Budget to the roll out Way Back in selected Primary Health Network Regions.

The Way Back is an aftercare model developed by Beyond Blue, designed to drive continuity of care by providing non-clinical, assertive outreach, follow-up care and practical support to individuals being discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt. Partnerships are formed with hospitals, which assess and refer people to the Way Back. Support Coordinators then contact the person within 24 hours and to help keep them safe and connected with support networks and health and community services during this period of high risk and vulnerability.

The expansion of the Way Back in Victoria will enable state-wide coverage of services which will benefit people who have attempted suicide or are experiencing suicidal crisis. It is anticipated that the location of the sites will include regional areas of Victoria which are currently being negotiated with the Victorian Government.

Prioritising Mental Health – Extension of the National Suicide Prevention Trial Sites

The Australian Government is investing $12.4 million in 2020-21 to extend the National Suicide Prevention Trial (the trial), established through the 2016‑17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook measure, Strengthening Mental Health in Australia, by an additional year. The trial will now cease on 30 June 2021 and will support the safe and sustainable transition of existing trial activity.

The trial is led by Primary Health Networks (PHNs) and aims to improve the current evidence of how systems-based approaches to suicide prevention can be implemented at a local level for at-risk population groups.

There are 12 trial sites in the following locations:

  • New South Wales: North Coast and Western PHNs
  • Victoria: North Western Melbourne PHN
  • Queensland: Brisbane North and Central Queensland, Townsville, Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay PHNs
  • Western Australia: Perth South, Country Western Australia – Kimberley and Country Western Australia – Mid-West PHNs
  • South Australia: Country South Australia PHN
  • Tasmania: Tasmania PHN
  • Northern Territory: Darwin PHN.

This measure will have a positive impact on regional communities where trial sites are located.

Prioritising Mental Health – Suicide Prevention and Peer-Support for Young People

The Australian Government is investing $4.6 million in 2020-21 to improve social and emotional wellbeing outcomes of young people by: building resilience, help-seeking behaviour and hope; reduce the impact of depression, suicidal ideation and bullying; and improve student engagement and school attendance. This will be achieved by providing funding to:

  • Deliver a best-practice early intervention and prevention mentoring program for Year 8 students through the Raise Foundation at public secondary schools across Australia, including regional areas.
  • Increase the capacity of ReachOut’s moderated peer support forums to address suicide and self-harm risk and to support the development of culturally safe prevention and early intervention services with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to better help this group and prevent suicide.
  • Further develop and test its YourCrew App which aims to increase the rate of effective help-seeking by young people by linking them to a community of their choosing and educating their community on sources of effective help.
  • Promote the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians, including those affected by bushfires and drought through the Stand Tall event 2020.

Prioritising Mental Health – Digital Mental Health – Operation of Head to Health and National Safety and Quality Standards

The Australian Government is investing $4.2 million in 2020-21 to fund the operation and enhancement of the Australian Government’s digital mental health gateway (Head to Health), and fund the next phase in delivering the national and quality standards for digital mental health services (the standards).

This allows for enhancements and better positioning efforts to enable the gateway to reach its full potential, building on over one million sessions currently reached. Implementation of the standards is a key pillar of Australia’s digital mental health agenda to ensure digital mental health services listed on Head to Health are assessed as safe, effective, appropriate and user-friendly.

Digital mental health services are of particular importance for regional Australians who either live too far away or do not want to seek face-to-face services to access mental health services. This measure will build community and health professional trust in digital mental health services by supporting the delivery of safe, quality mental health services and outcomes irrespective of geographical barriers: driving, an increased digital mental health service uptake.

Prioritising Mental Health – Adult Mental Health Centre – Trial

In the 2019-20 Budget, the Australian Government announced it would invest $114.5 million over five years from 2020-21 for the planned trial of eight adult mental health centres, with one to be established in each state and territory commencing operations in 2022-23. Three of the centres will be commissioned by Primary Health Networks in regional areas, including: Townsville, Queensland; Launceston, Tasmania; and Greater Darwin, Northern Territory. In the 2019‑20 Mid‑Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Australian Government announced it would bring forward the planning of these centres, which will now be established in 2020‑21 and will be operational for three years beginning in 2021-22.

The Government is also investing an additional $6 million to extend the operation of the Greater Darwin Adult Mental Health Centre by an additional two years from 2024-25.

The centres will provide a welcoming, low stigma, ‘no wrong door’ entry point for adults to access mental health information, care and support. They will assist people in times of crisis, or as needs emerge, to have access to on-the-spot care without the need for a prior appointment.

Preventive Health – Implementation of Roadmap for Hearing Health

The Australian Government is investing $21.2 million over five years from 2020-21 to implement measures from the Roadmap for Hearing Health and adjust Hearing Services Program settings to ensure consumer focused hearing services for all Australians.

The measure positively impacts all Australians who are hard of hearing, including those in regional and rural communities.

Key priorities include:

  • Supporting rural service delivery through a workforce audit and a rural hearing health workforce summit, with a particular focus on rural and remote areas and capacity to service Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for long-term planning for delivery of services in rural and remote areas.
  • A national hearing awareness and prevention campaign over three years from 2020‑21, targeted at populations most vulnerable to hearing loss. The campaign will focus on the prevention of avoidable hearing loss, promoting practices to prevent hearing damage, destigmatising hearing loss, and encouraging people experiencing hearing loss to seek treatment, and targeted preventive messaging directed at the agricultural sector amongst others.
  • Development and adoption of new tele-audiology standards so hearing services can be delivered through this medium without compromising the outcomes for clients. For regional Australians this will mean less travel and related costs to hearing appointments.
  • Voucher duration under the Hearing Services Program will be extended from three to five years to align with consumer expectations and improvements in technology and maintenance payments will be updated to better reflect manufacturer warranties.
  • Work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled sector in rural and remote areas to improve early identification of hearing and speech difficulties for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
  • Pilot initiatives in the aged care sector, to improve the capability of the aged care workforce to support people with hearing loss.
  • An expert-led review of Hearing Services Program settings and how services can be improved in rural and remote areas is currently underway and will conclude in July 2021.
  • A program of research through the National Health and Medical Research Council to develop an evidence base for effective treatment, service delivery and prevention of hearing loss.

Preventive Health – Streamlining Cancer Australia’s Tumour Specific Funding Streams

The Australian Government is investing $11.5 million over four years from 2020-21, within existing resources to consolidate Cancer Australia’s tumour-specific funding streams into a single flexible funding stream. This measure will enable the agency to better respond to emerging priorities and support initiatives for a broader range of cancer types.

Under the consolidated stream, initiatives will be undertaken for different tumour types in the areas of evidence-based best practice care, sustainable models of care and service development policy.

Addressing disparities in health outcomes for cancer patients in rural and regional areas of Australia will be a strong focus for Cancer Australia, along with other key priorities in the areas of: evidence-based best practice care; sustainable models of care; service development and policy; and consumer and health professional information and resources.

Strengthening Primary Care – National Partnership Agreement on Public Dental Services for Adults – One Year Extension

The Australian Government is investing an additional $107.8 million in 2020-21 to extend the National Partnership Agreement on Public Dental Services for Adults (NPA). This will help states and territories provide services to an additional 180,000 public dental patients.

This brings the total investment through NPA to $458 million since it commenced on 1 January 2017, providing services to 763,000 public dental patients.

  • This extension continues Australian Government support to improve access to public dental services for vulnerable groups.
  • States and territories are responsible for the delivery of public dental services.
  • The NPA will help regional Australians with concession cards who rely on public dental services.

Strengthening Primary Care – Primary Care Enhancement Program for People with Intellectual Disability

The Australian Government in investing $6.6 million over four years from 2020-21 for the development of a Primary Care Enhancement Program for People with Intellectual Disability. The Program:

  • Provides greater support for General Practitioners (GPs) and other health professionals to provide more effective care to people with intellectual disability.
  • Gives people with intellectual disability better access to appropriate, quality health services that meet their needs.
  • Will be developed in the following four lead Primary Health Network (PHN) regions, with a view to national rollout:
    • Queensland: Central Queensland, Wide Bay, and the Sunshine Coast PHN
    • Victoria: Western Victoria PHN
    • Tasmania: Tasmania-wide PHN
    • New South Wales: Central and Eastern Sydney PHN
  • Includes the development of national resources by the Council for Intellectual Disability, including a training module for PHN staff, resources for GPs and other primary care professionals, National Disability Insurance Scheme linkage tools, and health promotion materials for people with intellectual disability and their families.

The Primary Care Enhancement Program was established following a roundtable in August 2019, which considered the inequities in health system access and quality for people with intellectual disability. The Program is a key short term priority under the National Roadmap for Improving Health Services for People with Intellectual Disability.

Improving Access to Medicines – Funding for Regulation of Medicinal Cannabis Research, Cultivation and Manufacture with Charging Consistent with the Australian Government Charging Framework

The Australian Government is investing $1.7 million in additional funding from 2020-21 to 2023‑24 for the regulation of the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme (the Scheme) under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967, which allows for the cultivation, production and/or manufacture of cannabis for medicinal or research purposes.

This measure provides a direct benefit to regional Australian businesses providing funding to subsidise the costs of travel for inspections that are associated with an application. This approach was taken to ensure that companies located in regional Australia are not unfairly impacted by higher costs that often result from travel to regional and remote communities.

This measure also supports the Government’s commitment to growing local industry by prioritising medicinal cannabis projects that make a significant contribution in the areas of supply to the domestic market, exports and industry development. Up to 5,000 direct and indirect jobs in regional areas can be attributed to the Scheme.

Guaranteeing Medicare – My Health Record

The Australian Government is investing $167.7 million in 2020-21 to continue operations of the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) including the Government’s commitment to operate the My Health Record system. This includes implementation of recommendations made by the Australian National Audit Office.

My Health Record is operated by ADHA and helps improve health outcomes and better coordinate healthcare through increased availability and quality of health information.

More than 90 per cent of eligible Australians now have a My Health Record. There are 22.82 million My Health Records, and over 86 per cent of all records have data in them.

The My Health Record system benefits regional Australians by providing a digital summary of a person’s key interactions with the healthcare sector. It can be viewed anywhere, anytime by the consumer and healthcare providers involved in their care. This particularly benefits Australians living in rural and remote Australia who may need to travel away from their home community to access healthcare, require virtual care services, or are regularly serviced by multiple healthcare providers.

Guaranteeing Medicare – Intergovernmental Agreement on National Digital Health – National Digital Health Foundations

The Australian Government is investing $32.3 million in 2020-21 to support the Government’s contribution to the 2018-2022 Intergovernmental Agreement on National Digital Health (the IGA), to implement a range of national digital health initiatives such as electronic prescribing and interoperability.

The IGA is signed by all Australian governments – Commonwealth, state and territory - and supports national digital health foundations including implementation of Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy – Safe, Seamless and Secure (2018-2022) (the Strategy). Implementation of the Strategy supports capability (such as better enabling virtual care) that is leading to significant improvements in the quality and safety of healthcare provided to healthcare recipients, the efficiency of the Australian health system and the health and wellbeing of all Australians. This is of particular importance for regional Australians as digital tools continue to support the delivery of safe, quality healthcare services and outcomes irrespective of geographical barriers.