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The Health Wrap: Budget fallout, highlighting critical issues for the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

This fortnight’s Health Wrap is compiled by Ellice Mol, the Sax Institute’s Digital Communications Manager. Enjoy the Wrap and tweet us via @SaxInstitute if you have any ideas for future issues.

Reactions to #HealthBudget16

This Budget 2016: Winners and losers infographic from the ABC shows health as a “loser” in this year’s budget, with the freeze on indexation of Medicare rebates to be extended for two more years, saving $925 million and $1.2 billion to be clawed back from aged care by changing the criteria for how funds are distributed to aged care providers. While the impasse over the Commonwealth’s 2014 plan to cut $50 billion from hospital funding over eight years remains, the states will get an extra $2.9 billion for public hospitals between 2017 and 2020 under a deal struck in April.

This was one of the more welcome outcomes for health in this year’s budget, Croakey reported in its comprehensive budget analysis. However, Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association CEO Alison Verhoeven noted that

“this returns less than half of the expected funding that was initially removed by the Government in the 2014 Budget.”

Overall public health was not a major focus of this budget. Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) Vice President David Templeman said that the Budget “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of prevention for the economy and the health of the Australian population.”

And there was also disappointment expressed about dental health care.

“The Government’s announcement last month of plans to shift dental services back to state governments, and save an estimated $1 billion in forecast spending, is a retrograde step given the many Australian children and adults for whom dental care is unaffordable,” said Catholic Health Australia spokesperson Toby Hall.

Sebastian Rosenberg, Senior Lecturer, Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, wrote for Croakey that the Budget was a non-event for mental health, devoid of new initiatives but containing some welcome funding for veterans facing mental illness.

Overshadowing other health funding news was the announcement of the two-year continuation of the freeze on Medicare rebates – to save the Government around $925 million. Jennifer Doggett reported on the issue for Croakey. And here she put a reality TV lens over the issue in this Budget eve piece.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners reacted strongly to the announcement of the rebate freeze and will launch a campaign against the Government’s decision, which it says will force doctors to charge their patients a co-payment, the SMH reported. The AMA also accused the Government of ‘taking $1 billion out of the pockets of Australian patients and household budgets by extending the Medicare rebate freeze’.

#HealthBudget16 trended on Twitter, with much talk being devoted to a perceived lack of commitment to climate change, Indigenous health and foreign aid, Croakey reported. And it offered readers this handy budget reactions at a glance article in case you missed some of the conversation.

***

Indigenous Health – the Budget fallout

Organisations including the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Oxfam Australia and Indigenous Allied Health Australia have raised concerns about the lack of new funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in response to the Government’s 2016 Budget announcement, Croakey reported.

“We’re not fooled, the end result of all this is that ongoing, unnecessary slashing of health funding has serious implications for Aboriginal peoples,” said Jill Gallagher AO, CEO Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation Inc.

Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said there was no new money to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians faced with shorter life expectancy and dramatically higher incarceration rates.

According to The Guardian, Dr Szoke called last year’s Closing the Gap speech “rhetorical flourish”, and said the Government had failed to restore funding cuts from 2014.

Shayne Neumann, opposition spokesman for Indigenous Affairs,  said the Government had “no vision, no focus and no priorities” for Indigenous Australians, locking in the same cuts from previous years, The Guardian reported.

Dr Megan Williams, a Senior Research Fellow at the Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Research team at Western Sydney University, wrote this timely article on Croakey highlighting the need for research leadership for #justjustice, a Croakey campaign tackling the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

She wrote about the mounting evidence into the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples that shows incarceration results in poor health and wellbeing and erodes an individual’s capacity to integrate into the community upon their release. Despite the evidence, Williams said strategies to reduce activities that lead to the imprisonment had been largely ignored by successive Australian governments over the decades. She said that prisoners, victims of crime and taxpayers would benefit from reduced incarceration rates when governments implemented evidence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ approaches to holistic healthcare, developed collective healing programs and addressed the underlying determinants of incarceration, such as poverty.

***

#IHMayDay16

Last week saw the third annual Indigenous Health May Day or #IHMayDay16, a Twitter festival led by James Cook University’s Dr Lynore Geia, co-hosted by Croakey and the University of Wollongong, and moderated by Geia, UoWs Associate Professor Bronwyn Carlson and Croakey contributor Summer May Finlay, that seeks to highlight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health issues. The theme for this year’s event was youth and families and suicide prevention.

On the subject of suicide prevention, this Croakey long-read highlighted the need for policy makers, health and media organisations to reflect upon concerning practices of speculation and generalisation about suicide and self-harm behaviour that further stigmatised suicide, particularly in Indigenous communities.

And another Croakey article from Summer May Finlay, previewing the inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference, highlighted the need for a focus on protective factors; namely interventions which promote cultural continuity, identity and language. Her wrap of the conference is just as much of a must-read.

In it, Vicki O’Donnell, CEO of the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Services Ltd said that the conference would profile the importance of collective healing.

“We need to come together as a collective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country and learn from and support each other,” Ms O’Donnell said.

Watch and listen to interviews from the conference.

Help and support services

For crisis
Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au

Youth Support Services
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (24/7 crisis support) www.kidshelp.com.au
headspace: 1800 650 890 www.headspace.org.au (online and direct clinical services)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services
www.naccho.org.au
www.sewbmh.org.au
www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
www.headspace.org.au/yarn-safe

***

Men’s health in the spotlight

The Conversation published a series on men’s hidden health conditions that featured explainers on erectile dysfunction, undescended testes and the cause of penis malformation and more. The series shed light on issues common to women that also affect men such as postnatal depression. This piece focused on mens’ reluctance to visit a doctor and highlighted research linking masculinity to health issues in men.

Meanwhile, Labor has pledged $10.6 million towards prostate cancer over three years if elected in July, Nine news reported.

***

In other news

The SMH has compiled a series of charts showing how most Australians die, and how this has changed over the past century, based on a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that finds coronary heart disease is still the biggest killer of men aged over 44 and women aged over 74. The report pointed to the need for prevention and equity to be at the heart of the current federal election campaign, Croakey reported.

Health authorities announced that another two people have contracted Legionnaires’ disease amid news that five cooling towers across the Sydney CBD have tested positive for legionella, The Age reported.

Meanwhile, a story in The SMH said the number of parents supplying their underage children with alcohol has dropped in line with an overall reduction in alcohol and cannabis use among young people, according to new research by the University of Queensland.

The Thermomix is in hot water after CHOICE revealed a mass incident report of 87 Thermomix customer experiences relating to the safety of the appliance, SMH reported. The CHOICE report also calls for a regulator to issue a safety warning and to investigate the $2000 appliance.

And advocates have called for a rating-style app like ‘Trip Advisor’ to measure the quality of aged care in an effort to drive change in the Australian aged care sector, ABC reported.

***

Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:

And from the Croakey Conference News Service coverage of the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Centre of New South Wales conference on Tackling Tobacco and Chronic Conditions:

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