Gov funding in SA aims to ease the burden on aged care and hospitals

Published on 24 May 2024

Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler at a recent Medicare Urgent Clinic press conference. [X]

The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, talked up the Federal Government’s investments into healthcare and ageing on Thursday when he visited the Modbury Hospital in Adelaide’s northeastern suburbs. 

Their three-point plan to strengthen Medicare was the focal point of the press conference, while Minister Butler and the South Australian Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Chris Picton, both highlighted how the investments will help aged care.

Making healthcare more affordable

Minister Butler started by discussing the bulk billing incentive from last year’s budget and ongoing investments to reduce the cost of medicines. Both are critical to making healthcare more affordable for everyone, particularly older people with chronic conditions. 

“We’ve had a three point plan to strengthen Medicare […] the centrepiece of that agenda was the tripling of the bulk billing incentive in last year’s Budget,” Minister Butler said.

“Five months on, I’m pleased to say that we are seeing increases in bulk billing across the country, including an increase in bulk billing of almost 4% here in South Australia.”

He added that Australians have already saved “hundreds of millions of dollars” through cheaper medicines. A recent press release put this figure at over $280 million saved since January 2023. Those savings will continue after the 2024 Budget saw them freeze the price of medicines for up to five years for pensioners and concession card holders.

Reducing the healthcare burden with Urgent Care Clinics

The 2024 Budget saw $227 million invested into boosting the capacity of Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, which includes establishing 29 new Clinics. Once completed there will be 87 Clinics that help reduce the pressure on hospital emergency departments. 

South Australia’s sixth Urgent Care Clinic will be at Modbury Hospital, where Minister Butler said it will help provide better care for older people.

“[…]To prevent them from having to go to hospital in the first place if they don’t really need to, and can be adequately cared for in other settings like aged care facilities, and if they do have to come to hospital, they’re able to move through the hospital system as quickly as possible,” he added.

Minister Picton addressed how the broader healthcare system, including aged care, can put pressure on public hospitals when urgent care is required. He touched on the issue the State faces with aged care in hospital settings, where 190 patients are currently stuck in hospital while waiting for aged care places.

“That’s the equivalent number of patients of this entire Modbury hospital behind us, who need to be in aged care who are waiting for aged care but can’t get into aged care,” Minister Picton said.

“If we can address that blockage of people leaving our hospital system to get into aged care, then that helps up free up capacity. It not only helps those people who will get better support and ongoing care in aged care rather than being stuck in a hospital bed but frees up the next bed for somebody who’s coming from the emergency department […].”

Extra support for aged care

While there is a focus on moving patients out of hospitals and into aged care, Mr Picton understands aged care providers are “under the pump”. He said some providers are reluctant to take on residents with complex healthcare needs because the support just isn’t there to care for them.

To combat this, the South Australian Government announced the creation of a Geriatric Flying Squad.

“This will be doctors, nurses and staff from SA Health going out to aged care providers to help them with the transition of people from hospital into aged care, particularly those people with complex needs to make sure that their better supported and aged care providers are more willing to accept them and get them out of hospital,” Minister Picton added.

Those experts will also work on reducing hospital readmissions to ensure individuals are not being constantly moved around when they need consistent, stable care. 

Dr Sally Johns, Northern Adelaide Local Health Network Head of Geriatric Unit, is involved in the program. She said once patients have received their initial treatment the hospital is often not the best place to receive care. She’s excited to partner with the aged care sector and to work alongside aged care staff to support the transition of older people.

“We certainly have an ageing population and with ageing comes increasing complexity and increasing health needs,” Dr Johns said.

“No doubt that work in aged care is a very complex space, and particularly some of these patients have highly specialised needs. They need the support of the specialist teams from the hospital to be able to support their care, which is what this funding and this initiative will be able to provide.”

aged care
Department of Health and Aged Care
mark butler
South Australia
hospital admission
Modbury Hospital
Urgent Care Clinic