What does the NSW budget mean for Health?
Our health system is in crisis. Health workers with essential professional skills like paramedics, nurses, and midwives are leaving NSW or leaving the profession entirely due to poor pay, dangerous working conditions and burnout. People across the state and particularly in rural and regional areas are waiting too long for ambulances, languishing for hours (or even days) in emergency departments and are facing rising costs and wait-lists to see a GP.
The Labor government’s budget for Health is a step in the right direction. But in the face of a crisis of this scale, it’s underwhelming - the Minns government is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
- Nurses and midwives: the budget includes $419.1m for an additional 1200 nurses. But without urgent and significant improvement in pay and working conditions, nurses will continue to leave NSW and leave the profession - we need to retain existing staff, not only recruit new staff. Nurses in NSW have been offered a 4% pay rise which is below inflation - a pay cut in real terms! The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association have pointed out that the budget does not include enough resourcing for safe staffing ratios for nurses, something that the Labor government had promised and is critical for patient safety as well as staff wellbeing.
- Paramedics: the budget includes $438.6m for an additional desperately needed 500 rural and regional paramedics. The Australian Paramedics Association (NSW) have described this as “putting a band-aid on a bullet hole” while paramedics continue to move interstate for better pay and conditions. Similarly to nurses and midwives, a below-inflation pay rise of 4% is insulting - and study subsidies for healthcare students are valuable, but can’t make a meaningful difference when retention is so poor.
- Mental Health: the budget still continues to invests the least in mental health services per capita compared to all other Australian States and territories. Mental health conditions represent 13 per cent of the total burden of disease in the State, but only 7 per cent of the health budget is spent on mental health care. Mental health access is a chronic problem across the state as people are falling through the cracks while on waitlist or referred to different services that are funded in silos.
- Ambulances: will be free for certain concession holders and victim-survivors of DFV or child abuse. This is a good thing - but no one should be out of pocket for essential medical care!
- Hospitals: of course, a hospital is only a building without workers to staff it. The budget includes welcome and important upgrades to hospitals, particularly in Western Sydney. It recommits funding for poor decisions on redevelopments that don’t meet the needs of local communities in regional communities like Albury, Grafton and Manning Valley.
- Women’s and Reproductive Health: the budget includes a $34.3m boost for Women’s Health Centres, and additional Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners and forensic medical officers to support victims of sexual assault. These are positive steps. Contraception, abortion and fertility treatment remain inaccessible in the public health system for most people in NSW.
How can NSW afford what the Greens are asking for?
A budget is all about priorities. The Minns Labor government has chosen not to raise the revenue it needs to be able to look after patients and health workers. If they were to increase coal royalties to the same rates as Queensland has currently, they could raise $2.7 billion over the next 4 years. Making partners of the big 4 accounting firms liable for payroll tax, like everyone else, would raise $250m over 4 years. A super-tax on pokies could rake in $700 million every year. The Greens are calling on the NSW Labor government to make the gambling, banking, consultancy, property development and fossil fuel industries pay their fair share of tax to fund the essential services that we all need.