Budget delivers funding for oncology

Oncology clinicians, researchers and patients are set to benefit from the 2022 Federal Budget with announcements of funding for new multidisciplinary cancer centres, cancer nurses and oncology PBS and MBS items.

The Albanese Labor government’s first Budget also includes announcements for cheaper scripts on PBS, seed funding for an Australian Centre for Disease Control and COVID-19 vaccines and therapies for high risk immunocompromised patients.

One of the main announcements in the health portfolio was a commitment to fund two new Comprehensive Cancer Centres for Queensland and South Australia. The Government said it would provide $452 million over six years from 2022–23 to support the establishment of cancer centres in Brisbane and Adelaide.

The funding will contribute to the establishment of the Queensland Cancer Centre in Brisbane, which will be owned and operated by the Queensland Government and will be located within the Herston Health Precinct at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Funding will also support the establishment of the Bragg Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Adelaide, which is an extension of the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

Both centres will provide multi-disciplinary cancer care, research and clinical trials for all types of cancers.

The WA government announced that that the Federal government will honour a commitment to provide $375 million to fund a WA Comprehensive Cancer Centre, part of a $750 million project developed by the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

In a range of funding announcements for cancer services, the government said it would

amend the Medicare Benefits Schedule to increase rebates for six nuclear medicine items for patients receiving scans and treatment for some cancers;

introduce a new somatic gene panel test in the initial diagnosis of patients with morphological features of glioma, glioneuronal tumours or glioblastoma;

introduce a new item for a whole-body MRI scan to enable the detection of cancer in individuals with germline pathogenic TP53 variant

extend patient eligibility for the current therapeutic nuclear medicine item for the treatment of painful bony metastases with any cancer type.

PBS expenditure will also cover listing  of cemiplimab (Libtayo) from 1 November 2022, for the treatment of metastatic or locally advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma

The Budget also included an announcement of $14.8 million over 4 years from 2022–23 to Melanoma Institute Australia for additional melanoma nurses in each state and territory to deliver specialist nursing support to melanoma cancer patients. And a rare disease telehealth nurse program will be supported with $3 million over 3 years from 2022–23 to assist patients with rare diseases to navigate the health system.

Other announcements include:

An Australian Centre for Disease Control

The Government will provide $3.2 million in 2022–23 to undertake the initial design for the establishment of an Australian Centre for Disease Control. The design work will incorporate stakeholder consultations to ensure the new Centre will support improved pandemic preparedness and response, as well as the prevention of chronic disease.

Cheaper PBS scripts 

The Government will provide $787.1 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $233.4 million per year ongoing) to decrease the general patient co-payment for treatments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from $42.50 to $30.00 on 1 January 2023.

Urgent Care Clinics

The Government will provide $235 million over 4 years from 2022–23 to commence the roll-out of 50 Urgent Care Clinics, including $100 million over two years from 2022–23 to co-develop and pilot innovative models with states and territories to improve care pathways and inform program roll-out. The Urgent Care Clinics will reduce pressure on hospital emergency departments and make it easier for Australian families to see a doctor or a nurse when they require urgent but not life-threatening care. All Urgent Care Clinics will be open during extended business hours with no appointments required, and will ensure that patients do not have out-of-pocket costs

Climate change and health

The Government will provide $3.4 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $0.7 million per year ongoing) to develop a National Health and Climate Strategy and establish a National Health Sustainability and Climate Unit. This unit will address emerging health risks resulting from climate change and coordinate climate change responses across the health system.

Covid-19 package

The Government will provide $808.2 million in 2022–23 to extend elements of the Government’s response to COVID-19 until 31 December 2022. Funding will cover vaccine delivery, testing and treatments, GP-led Respiratory Clinics and extending medical indemnity legislative arrangements to continue access to the Run-Off Cover Scheme to support eligible doctors and midwives returning to the workforce to help address shortages arising from COVID-19. There will be $162.4 million for COVID-19 related items including PCR testing; GP telehealth consultations to evaluate eligible COVID-positive patients’ suitability for oral antivirals; Medicare rebates for telehealth appointments for patients with COVID-19 and temporary MBS item to support GPs and other medical practitioners to manage COVID-positive patients in the community.

The Government will also provide $410.3 million in 2022–23 for the procurement and distribution of rapid antigen tests (RATs) and personal protective equipment (PPE), $356 million for the distribution and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines across Australia and $500 million for the procurement of additional vaccines and treatments on the National Medical Stockpile.

“Down payment”

The AMA welcomed the announcements, but said there needs to be “a genuine health budget” next May to address issues such as the hundreds of thousands of Australians on waiting lists.

“Time is running out for our overstretched health system. The government needs to use the next six months to prepare a package of measures to deliver additional investments in health that address the crisis in our ramped public hospitals, further support our overworked GPs, and reform the private health system,” said AMA President, Professor Steve Robson said.

“This budget also doesn’t address the long-running logjam facing our public hospitals. We need to see 50/50 funding implemented and the arbitrary 6.5 per cent cap on federal hospital funding growth scrapped if we are to address the record ambulance ramping and wait lists, as outlined in the AMA’s Clear the Hospital Logjam campaign,” he added.

“With inflation expected to hit 7.75 per cent by the December quarter this year, any extra federal funding will simply be eaten up by rising healthcare costs before it reaches even a single patient, leaving no funding to provide extra services to meet community health needs.”

However the AMA has warned that reform of the private health system also needs to be addressed in 2023.

“The health minister has acknowledged how important this essential pillar of the health system is and we acknowledge there is some work underway in this area, but we need investment to ensure reform can take place,” said Prof Robson.

He said the federal government missed the opportunity in this budget to address chronic disease through the AMA’s proposed sugar tax, or any other preventative health initiatives.

“At a time when the government is looking to make savings, a sugar tax is a solution that raises revenue while reducing chronic disease. And that revenue can be directed towards public health initiatives that further reduce chronic disease without impacting the budget. It’s a win-win-win policy.”

Professor Robson also warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over with the overseas experience and the government’s own advice suggesting that another wave of infections would hit the country by the end of the year.

“Several key COVID-19 related support measures for public hospitals, aged care and general practice are due to end by 31 December this year and the virus is unlikely to respect this deadline, which will put more pressure on the health system.”

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