Budget cuts will ‘decimate’ asthma services

Asthma Australia warns budget cuts will “decimate” its programs and prevent it from helping thousands of Australians manage their airways disease.

The national organisation runs support and education programs used by over 50,000 people, including a phone hotline, with 60% of its approximately $4.5 million annual income obtained from government sources.

But now it’s heading for a “funding cliff” with planned federal budget cuts threatening to jeopardise the viability of support programs, the organisation says in its 2018-19 pre-budget submission.

Already this year a 34% reduction (on 2016-17 levels) in funding has forced it to axe all in-school programs for young people with asthma. It has also had to cut community education programs for disadvantaged people, which will now be limited to online and telehealth services with reduced resourcing.

The group also cut face-to-face asthma First Aid training for school teachers, which is now only available online.

Asthma Australia now warns that cuts are likely to continue, with funding predicted to fall by 61% in 2018-19 and 74% in 2019-20, when the group will receive only $750,000.

Also in the firing line is the COACH program, in which trained Asthma Foundation coaches provide confidential, free-of-charge support over the phone to patients.

The program, which has seen a surge in referrals from GPs and specialists in the wake of the 2016 thunderstorm asthma event, will no longer be able to meet demand, Asthma Australia says.

The funding cuts for preventive programs are a false economy, Asthma Australia says, as they will result in higher costs for acute care of poorly managed asthma.

“Without support for these programs, costs to the healthcare system will increase with a large population of people who don’t have the knowledge, skills and tools to manage their asthma. Instead they will require urgent GP and hospital visits to manage asthma exacerbations, at a more expensive cost to the health system.”

“The funding cliff that Asthma Australia faces will decimate the organisation and result in up to 35,000 teachers, 12,000 young people and 3,000 people experiencing disadvantage missing out on life-saving education, information and resources,” the submission says.

“This will place significant pressure on the health system with at least 45 per cent of the 2.5 million Australians with asthma already struggling to manage the condition.

“Immediate action is needed by the Australian Government to ensure that Asthma Australia can continue to support children, young people and adults with asthma and the broader community in managing the condition and avoiding hospitalisations and deaths,” it concludes.

In 2015, there was outcry from a coalition of health groups over a government decision to strip hundreds of millions of dollars from the Health Flexible Funds, which supported many healthcare organisations to deliver support services. The government said the changes – which saw 11 funds absorbed into a new funding structure – would achieve responsible savings and enable more efficient targeting of health funding, with minimal impact on frontline delivery.

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