Announcement will do little to stifle health funding row

IF the government believes its announcement of $107 million in funding to Victorian hospitals has set itself as the knight in shining armour coming in to save the day, voters are seemingly less than convinced.

Amid ongoing finger pointing between the federal and state governments, there remains little clarity in who was ultimately responsible for the disgraceful circumstances surrounding the health funding debate. 

What most people are concerned about is not who funds but just that it happens. Without support from federal and state governments, beds close, staff disappear and surgeries cease and that’s not a good outcome for anyone who might be sick.

The strategic manner at which the information was released by the federal government late on Wednesday afternoon was designed to get maximum exposure.

It certainly achieved that goal. Yet, the government also must have believed that it could gain political mileage by providing funding directly to hospitals, thus implying the state government could not be trusted.

Stepping in as it has in this instance is the responsible course of action. 

But claiming some sort of moral high ground in the process only serves to further ingrain the notion that the debate was less about patients and more about politics.

Ballarat Base Hospital chief executive Andrew Rowe spoke for the majority in his response to the government’s announcement: “We are pleased to get back to what we do best, and that is care for our patients.”

It will be of particular relief for Mr Rowe, as his board – some of whom were appointed by the current state government – has been pushing hard on the issue behind closed doors.

There’s still considerable elements of future funding arrangements that governments on both levels must clarify.

Firstly, will the federal government now also provide hospital funding directly in other states? Also, will the mode of assessing funding distributions – based in some respects on population movements and forecasts – remain the same? Will the state government reassess how it uses federal distributions in health?

The funding announced this week is welcomed. 

That aside, it remains a frustration that the impasse couldn’t have been resolved earlier and that future funding remains murky.

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