Health off the radar

UNIVERSITY of Tasmania political scientist Richard Eccleston says it's disappointing that both major parties have neglected health as an election issue.

Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne and opposition health spokesman Jeremy Rockliff have had little to say on the future of Tasmania's health system during the election campaign, even as the federal government flags changes to the Medicare system.

This is in contrast to 2010, when Labor kicked off its campaign by pledging $130 million for the Launceston General Hospital - a promise matched by the Liberals - with both parties making further commitments to palliative care, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, primary care and the Tasmania Health Plan.

Dr Eccleston said both parties seemed too afraid to discuss health before this election, faced with a federal review of the health system, budget constraints, an ageing population and an  increasing burden of chronic disease.

``Next year the state government will be spending $1.5 billion on health, more than any other policy area, and it needs to be discussed and debated,'' Dr Eccleston said.

``The reality is that all levels of government have got less resources, so the system is going to come under more and more pressure.

``These are big challenges, there aren't any easy solutions, and I guess that's one reason why the political parties are reluctant to raise the issue.''

Dr Eccleston said the debate should  focus on how the next government would restructure the health system to be more efficient and sustainable, rather than who would spend the most money.

``The next government will be confronting the same problems that previous governments faced, so it will require some tough decisions and some quite radically and politically courageous reforms.

``In a lot of key areas, Tasmania's health system is actually less efficient by 10 or 20 per cent than other comparably-sized regional health centres.

``We clearly need to think about things differently.''

Dr Eccleston said it was also disappointing that neither party appeared to be making any significant contribution to the federal discussion around health, as the Commission of Audit reviewed the health system and Health Minister Peter Dutton flagged an overhaul of Medicare.

Ms O'Byrne said Tasmanians could expect more health announcements before the election.

She said Labor had made tough decisions to reform the way health services were delivered, invested heavily in new hospital infrastructure at the Launceston General Hospital and in rebuilding the Royal Hobart Hospital, and delivered the lowest elective surgery waiting list in eight years.

``The larger than ever health funding delivered in the 2013-14 budget - more than $1.4 billion - is evidence of the priority  that   health has been given,'' Ms O'Byrne said.

Mr Rockliff said the Liberals were committed to rebuilding essential services  and had announced plans in May to invest an addition $76 million into reopening 40 closed hospital beds and employing an 110 frontline health and hospital staff.


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