Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has seized on Opposition plans to cut into 3,000 Medicare Locals saying it signals an Abbott government would follow the lead of state coalition governments in sacking thousands of health workers.

Ms Plibersek says that shadow health minister, Peter Dutton had “belled the cat” by telling Croakey that Australia could not afford 6,000 Health Department staff and an estimated 3,000 in Medicare Locals.

It showed how he and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott “would slash and burn frontline health jobs if they ever get into power”.

She says the Opposition would slash from Medicare Locals staff who included doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, outreach workers, Aboriginal health workers and care coordinators, she said.

“There is now absolutely no doubt that under a Coalition Government, patients would suffer and the standards of care would be downgraded as health services are cut out of
local communities.”

“I am extremely concerned this is just the tip of the iceberg and Mr Abbott and Mr Dutton are also planning to gut other vital health institutions,” Ms Plibersek said.

Mr Dutton had “quietly revealed” his plan in comments to Croakey, she said.  He said then that MLs “may be well intentioned, but we can’t afford . . . over 6,000 people in the department and portfolio agencies and over an estimated 3,000 people employed across Medicare Locals”.

Ms Plibersek said Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton were following the lead of Coalition premiers in Queensland, NSW and Victoria who were currently sacking thousands of health workers and cutting billions from their health budgets.

“Tony Abbott has said he supports the job cuts in health in states like Queensland and now we know why. If he ever becomes prime minister, he will do exactly the same thing.”

Ms Plibersek said Medicare Locals do things like link-up frontline health professionals to fill gaps in local services, such as afterhours care, and placed decision-making about health care needs in the hands of local communities.

“Medicare Locals are delivering home-grown solutions to local health problems and making it easier for Australians to see and contact a health professional, closer to home.”

She said an example was the Lower Murray Medicare Local which had teamed up with the Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria to help transport Indigenous people with chronic conditions living in remote communities to medical appointments.”

From July 1 next year, Medicare Locals will be funded specifically to ensure that people have improved access to after-hours services, regardless of where they live.

Mr Dutton told Croakey that the Coalition supports a co-ordinated primary care approach, but “we don’t support the way Labor has implemented Medicare Locals. The Coalition will detail its plan for primary care in the run up to the next election”.

Declaration: Mark Metherell has been commissioned by the Australian Medicare Local Alliance to write a publication about the work of  Medicare Locals.