What the 2024 Federal Budget means for dermatology


By Geir O'Rourke

20 May 2024

A preventative health campaign and plans for a targeted skin cancer screening program are among the highlights for dermatology in this year’s Federal Budget.

Major health announcements were few and far between, with inflation reduction and cost-of-living measures the main focus of Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ third Budget last week.

Nevertheless, some significant changes were made to the $8.5 billion in new money that the federal government says it will invest in health next financial year.

For dermatology, the biggest developments all relate to skin cancer, with the government tapping Melanoma Institute Australia co-medical directors Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer to draw up a roadmap for targeted skin cancer screening.

According to the government, the $10.3 million allocated to the project will also fund the 2024 Australians of the Year to improve the collection of skin cancer data.

Meanwhile, $15 million has been allocated to a national skin cancer prevention campaign intended to reach groups most at risk, including men over 40 and young adults.

But while this funding was welcomed, the Budget has received a muted reception from doctors’ groups.

AMA president Professor Steve Robson said he was disappointed by the lack of health reform and inaction on issues such as preventative health and surgery waitlists.

“Just weeks ago, we released a report showing planned surgery wait times in our public hospitals are now the longest on record, and emergency departments remain strangled by access block,” he said.

“The additional investment through the next hospital agreement is very welcome but we have hundreds and thousands of Australians waiting in pain for planned surgery. Unless the Commonwealth and the state and territories come up with a funded plan to address this, patients will continue to suffer, with their conditions getting worse, their quality of life significantly impacted and the long-term cost to the health system being higher.”

Other big-ticket health items in the budget included another $1.4 billion committed to medical research through the Medical Research Future Fund, including an additional $411.6 million for low-survival cancers and reducing health inequities.

And grabbing most of the headlines was a cap on the maximum cost of PBS medicines, which will stay at $31.60 for two years. Pensioners and concession card holders will pay no more than $7.70 per dispensed medication for five years.

Beyond this, the government is committing to fund an additional 29 urgent care clinics, adding to the 58 already opened, and has already pledged to spend almost $600 million on a national digital mental health service.

But these were unlikely to address the major structural challenges facing the health system, Professor Robson noted.

“More urgent care clinics are not a long-term strategic solution, and the government keeps looking to fund more of them without proper evaluation of their impact,” he said.

“What we need is reform that enables general practice to deliver the primary care that our patients need, not piecemeal announcements and changes that further fragment the system.”

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