The 2004-2005 Federal Budget contains a package of measures to ensure that Australia is prepared for the emerging health challenges facing the nation.
Our health system is one of the best and fairest in the world. These new measures will provide better protection against new diseases and better access to affordable health services.
Measures funded through the Federal Budget address not only external threats such as avian flu but the need for continuous improvement in medical research and delivery of services.
Funding is also provided to implement the new initiatives in the enhanced Medicare package, including the introduction of certain allied health and dental services into Medicare.
This Budget provides the necessary resources to ensure the highest level of preparation and security against new diseases.
These preparations will include stockpiling of antiviral medications against influenza, and expansion of the existing National Emergency Medicines Stockpile in case of a terrorist attack. Protective clothing will be purchased for border control and health workers who might come into contact with a new disease, and detection of influenza at Australia's international borders will be strengthened.
The Australian Government will also make a major investment in medical research, by giving practical support to the independent institutes that carry out so much ground breaking research. This extra funding will go directly to assist the institutes with infrastructure costs not covered by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Australia has one of the safest blood supplies in the world. Our supplies depend on the goodwill of voluntary blood donors. To protect the health of donors, new standards on levels of haemoglobin, the protein that contains iron and is packaged in red blood cells will be introduced. The Red Cross Blood Service will be assisted in recruiting and processing more donors to adjust to this change.
New information technology has the potential to greatly improve the provision of health services and reduce the number of clinical errors made by doctors. I am particularly pleased that this Budget contains funding for the new national health information network, HealthConnect, which could set the world standard for electronic patient records. Trials are already well under way and have been extremely well received by the medical profession and consumers.
The Government has provided funding to continue work on the possible benefits of a national bowel screening program and to continue a pilot screening program. Screening may help to detect this deadly disease — one of the most common forms of cancer in Australia — before it becomes untreatable.
Medicare is the foundation of our health system. The changes announced in the new Medicare package improve Medicare to enable it to cope with developments in medical practice.
The Medicare Safety Net has already helped around 33,000 families and individuals to meet high medical bills resulting from a crisis or a chronic condition. The universal protection that Medicare gives to all Australians has been improved and increased by the new Medicare measures. Access to Medicare after hours will be increased through cooperative arrangements with the States, which will reduce the burden on emergency departments in public hospitals.
The 2004-2005 Budget demonstrates the Government's continued commitment to the health and well-being of people in country areas by maintaining support for existing rural health services through the Rural Health Strategy. As well as continuing to address workforce issues, the strategy will include preventive health measures and a focus on better access in remote areas to improve the health outcomes of rural Australians compared to those in cities.