Pandemic ‘amnesia’ in public health response

People wearing masks in crowd
The Federal Budget failed to fully fund an Australian Centre For Disease Control. | Photo: William 87 iStock)

Australia remains unprepared for the next pandemic following this week’s Federal Budget, according to the Public Health Association of Australia.

Association CEO Terry Slevin said despite a 2022 promise to improve the country’s pandemic preparedness and response the Government has yet to set up an Australian Centre for Disease Control (ACDC).

Professor Slevin said an “Interim ACDC” was set up with $90m over two years in the 2023 budget, but has been invisible to the public.

“The absence of any budget line item for the ACDC suggests pandemic amnesia four years after the lives of everyone in Australia was upended,” he said.

“An ACDC must serve many functions, including leading the national effort to properly prepare for future pandemics, which infectious disease experts have repeatedly warned are likely to happen.”

Professor Slevin said COVID-19 changed the world and responsible governments invested to prepare their countries for future likely events.

“This budget failed to give certainty to the future of disease control in Australia, which should be our chance to reduce the burden of health threats both known and unknown.”

Professor Slevin did welcome $43.9m to tackle HIV/AIDS and $126m for expanded testing, treatment and prevention measures for First Nations people and rural and remote communities.

However, he said looking at the big picture, Australia still spent less than 2 percent of health spending on public and preventive health measures.

Catholic Health Australia CEO Jason Kara said the Federal Government needed to take action to shore up the private health system after ignoring it in the Budget.

“The government has ignored a critical part of the health system that performs two thirds of elective surgeries in this country, missing an opportunity to take pressure off public hospitals,” Mr Kara said.

“In the past five years, 71 private hospital services have closed down as a result of workforce shortages and funding from insurers failing to keep pace with soaring costs of providing care.”

Catholic Health Australia Director of Aged Care Policy Laura Haylen said the Government’s decision to delay essential aged care reforms threatened access to quality care for older Australians.

“It’s been six months since the Aged Care Taskforce delivered its recommendations and the government has not even responded to them,” Ms Haylen said.

“The decision to neglect the Aged Care Taskforce recommendations in this budget is incredibly disappointing and frustrating.”

Retirement Living Council Executive Director Daniel Gannon said while the Budget focussed on the housing needs of some Australians, it forgot a large cohort of older people and the challenges associated with age-friendly accommodation and care.

“The number of people aged over 75 around the country will increase by 70 percent by 2040, which should lead to governments prioritising what is required to house this ‘silver tsunami’,” Mr Gannon said.

“Instead, it’s radio silence on why retirement villages still haven’t been included in the Prime Minister’s 1.2 million new homes target and what the government’s response is to the Aged Care Taskforce recommendations.”