After 21 years working in the health sector, it’s an experience bordering on the surreal to go through Health Department papers in the Budget lock-up and find funding for many, though not all, of the programs you have been advocating over those decades.

For health reformers, Budget nights have usually been one of frustration and disappointment.

Sure, there are several areas I can criticise, the main ones being dental health — a key indicator of social disadvantage — and the need for more funding in indigenous and mental health.

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Policy announcements don’t mean a lot until you see the actual money committed in the Budget and on Tuesday night, as I went through the list, there was a lot that was praiseworthy.

Medicare Local is not exactly a dynamic and inspiring name, I’ll concede; but there is serious money for primary care infrastructure, for new GP super clinics, for practice nurses and for extended after-hours services.

The Consumers Health Forum’s (CHF) persistent mantra has been: take the pressure off our creaking hospital system and provide better choice and greater accessibility to alternative services at a local and regional level. This is our hope for Medicare Locals.

With the other major changes announced for hospitals, this might finally become a reality.

The $466 million over two years to develop e-Health provides the funding for one of the most important pieces of the health jigsaw puzzle. One wonders why it has taken so long for the health sector to be prodded and pushed into the 21st century for the exchange of secure, digitised health information.

One of my staff recently spent a week in and out of the public and private hospital system and was able to identify three errors — one of them potentially serious — which could be attributed to the confusing nature of records systems and their poor interactivity.

It’s time for the many arms of the health sector to unite behind the principle of e-Health and do the hard work to ensure that the current ramshackle system of paper records and fragmented electronic records is replaced by something workable, secure and efficient. At the end of the day, consumers will get better health results if we can achieve this.

Finally, an election is due within months. Any politically prudent government, running strongly on a platform of health reform, would want to have some goodies up its collective sleeve to entice the voter.

I would be surprised if there aren’t some further announcements in vital areas such as dental health before we go to the polls. CHF will champion them: the hard yards to get them right come later.

*You can download the CHF’s Budget analysis here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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