Again, opinion polls show health emerging as a critical issue in Victorian elections and ranked second behind the cost of living in a poll conducted earlier this month. There are no details on why health is so high, but failures in ambulance response times, surging emergency services, long waits for elective procedures and health care. mental health probably all contribute. COVID-19 deniers may also have placed a premium on health. Although the Government has taken action in some of these areas, this remains an area where Labor has traditionally been strong but seen to be behind in 2022.
The response from both sides has been a tsunami of policies, the vast majority being pledges for more hospital beds, a strategy similar to that pursued by the government in 2019. According to Victoria’s Parliamentary Budget Office, the Liberals and nationals pledged $7.7. billion dollars for health so far, about a quarter of their total commitments. Labor is recorded as promising $4.4 billion, or about 40% of all their recorded commitments, but the budget office data does not yet include Arden-Parkville’s massive $5 billion commitment. .
Government pledges for hospitals in 2019 have so far resulted in impressive billboards marking the site of promised facilities, but not a single additional patient has been treated as a result of those election pledges. This is not unexpected given the long lead time needed to plan and build a new hospital. So, if voters think that any of the commitments made by either party will be fulfilled during this decade, they will be deeply disappointed.
But the delay is not the main issue of these hospital promises.
The big question is whether the promised spending reflects the right priorities. Health policy should start, quite naturally, with health. It should include policies to keep the public healthy, including investing in pandemic preparedness. Empowering people to manage their own illnesses and addressing the social, economic and market determinants of health should be at the forefront of any health policy. Unfortunately, not much has been heard from either side in these areas.
The second element of good policy should be to stimulate care in the community. The expansion of primary care, including community mental health care and community health centres, should also have been a priority. It would include additional hospital services such as home hospitalization, home rehabilitation and virtual outpatient care. We have a paragraph or two in the lists of promises, but far from the emphasis that should be seen in a 21st century policy.
It is only after investing in these areas that the third element of the policy, beds, comes to the fore. Beds are expensive to build and staff, and for this reason politicians should ensure that the first two items are properly resourced and functioning before investing in more acute hospital facilities.
Politicians love hospitals, an example of the so-called “building complex”. Hospitals have awesome machines with flashing lights and almost limitless possibilities for turning turfs and cutting ribbons. The public understands hospitals and so promising more hospitals is an easy policy to explain and promote. But the public should not be blamed for the failure of politicians to engage the public in good health policy over the past decade, and the lack of a compelling public vision of what good health policy should be. health.
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