Once again the polls show that Health is shaping up as a critical issue in Victorian elections and is second only to the cost of living in a poll conducted earlier this month. No details on why Health is rated so highly however Failed ambulance response timesemergency department stacking, prolonged waits for elective procedures, and Mental health care Maybe they all contribute. COVID-19 deniers may also have ranked highly in health. Although the government has taken action in some of these areas, it remains an area where Labor has traditionally been strong but is seen to be lagging behind in 2022.
The response of both parties was a tsunami of politics, with the vast majority Promises of more hospital beds, a strategy similar to that pursued by the government in 2019. According to the Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office, the Liberals and Citizens have promised $7.7 billion to health so far, about a quarter of their total commitments. Employment was recorded as promising $4.4 billion, about 40 percent of all its recorded commitments, but the Office of the Budget’s data does not yet include the colossal amount. $5 billion Arden-Parkville commitment.
The government’s 2019 promises resulted in some impressive billboards indicating the location of promised facilities but no additional patients were treated as a result of those election commitments. This is not unexpected given the long delays in planning and building a new hospital. Therefore, if the electors think that any of the obligations, by either party, will be fulfilled by this contract, they will be sorely disappointed.
But delays are not the main issue with these hospital promises.
The big question is whether the promised spending reflects the right priorities. Health policy should start, naturally enough, with health. It should include policies to preserve the health of the public, including investing in pandemic preparedness. Empowering people to manage their illnesses, and addressing the social, economic and business determinants of health, must be at the forefront of any health policy. Unfortunately, not much has been heard from either party in these areas.
The second component of a good policy should be the promotion of welfare in the community. Priority should also be given to expanding primary care, including community mental health care and community health centres. It will include additional hospital services such as in-home hospitalization, in-home rehabilitation, and virtual outpatient care. We have a paragraph or two in our lists of promises, but nowhere near the focus to be seen in 21st century politics.
Only after we invest in these areas does the third element of politics, the family, come to the fore. Building beds and staffing is expensive, and for this reason, politicians must ensure that the first two are properly resourced and functioning before investing in the most acute hospital facilities.
Politicians love hospitals, and they are the epitome of the so-called “edifice complex.” Hospitals have great machines with bright lights and offer almost unlimited opportunities for turning stones and cutting strips. The public understands hospitals, so promising more hospitals is an easy policy to explain and promote. But the public should not be blamed for the failure of politicians to engage the public about good health policy over the past decade, and the lack of a compelling public vision of what good health policy should be.