ILLAWARRA Shoalhaven Medicare Local and its staff face an uncertain future as the state’s 17 Medicare Locals are replaced by nine Primary Health Networks.
However Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local (ISML) chief executive officer Dianne Kitcher said she did not expect any negative impact on headspace in Nowra or plans for the GP Super Clinic.
“Headspace and the GP Super Clinic are both funded differently and separately to Medicare Local,” she said.
“Our company name is Grand Pacific Health and we do other things besides Medicare Local. All those other activities will continue,” Ms Kitcher said.
Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton last week confirmed the boundaries of 30 Primary Health Networks across the country, including the nine in NSW.
Under the federal reforms, flagged in the May budget, the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions will become part of the South Eastern NSW health network.
This large network will run from Sutherland to the Victorian border and extend north-west to Goulburn and Yass and south-west to Cooma and Jindabyne.
The Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local region mainly hugs the coast and extends from Helensburgh to Ulladulla.
Ms Kitcher said the existing region catered for about 400,000 people and four local government areas, while the new network would take in some 591,000 people and 14 LGAs.
“It’s a very large geographical area with nearly 200,000 more people so the biggest challenge will be to keep that local flavour, that local connection with GPs and other allied health service providers,” she said.
However Ms Kitcher welcomed the “long overdue” confirmation of boundaries, which she said would allow ISML to plan its next step.
Under the reforms Medicare Locals, as well as other interested organisations, will be required to make a bid to run the new networks which will become operational on July 1, 2015.
“We knew there would be fewer health networks than Medicare Locals but we didn’t know if we would be pushed north or south,” Ms Kitcher said.
“Now we know that the South Eastern network will merge the current geographical areas of the Illawarra Shoalhaven and Southern NSW Medicare Locals, so we know who we have to start talking with ... There’s never certainty in any tendering environment but we feel that we are in a strong position to make a competitive bid.”
Until the changes take place, Ms Kitcher said it would be “business as usual” for ISLM’s approximately 150 staff and the various programs and services the not-for-profit organisation delivered.
Throsby MP Stephen Jones said he was “deeply concerned” that networks were spread too thin across the country.
“Nationally the Abbott government has moved from 61 Medicare Locals to 30 Primary Health Networks – and from 17 to nine in NSW – so the geographical areas have basically doubled in size,” Mr Jones said.
“The Illawarra and Shoalhaven are being lumped in with a diverse range of regions stretching from southern Sydney, into rural western NSW and all the way down to the Victorian border.
“There’s a reason why they’re not being called Medicare ‘Locals’ any more – it removes the capacity to put in place genuinely ‘local’ health interventions.”
Mr Jones said that Labor established the Medicare Local network in 2011-12 to deliver “community-specific services based on local need”.
He said the changes would result in disruption to services and high changeover costs.
But Mr Dutton said the networks would aim to be more efficient and better direct health funding.