THE future for the Fremantle Street Doctor and youth mental health service Headspace is looking uncertain.
The services’ parent body, Fremantle Medicare Local, loses federal funding next June and the Abbott government has made it clear replacement “primary health networks” will not be service providers.
Instead, they will simply contract medical services to external providers, who’ll want to turn a profit: there’s little money to be made providing medical services to homeless people and kids with mental health problems.
Fremantle Medicare Local chair Graham Farquhar was unavailable for comment but a statement from “the operational team” says the board will meet next month to decide what will happen when the kitty runs dry.
While FML can apply to run the local health network, the statement suggests it’s unlikely to even try if it can’t run the services itself.
“The Board have a strong commitment to providing quality health services to our local community,” it says.
“Fremantle Medicare Local understands that PHNs will not be service providers.”
Federal MP Melissa Parke accuses the Coalition of waging ideological warfare on Labor-initiated programs: “On Medicare Locals, and on the Fremantle Medicare Local in particular, my concern is that the Abbott government has decided to tear down an important local health framework without being ready to replace the services and funding it provides,” she told the Herald. “In our community that includes things like the Freo Street Doctor and Headspace which provide critical help to people facing severe disadvantage and to young people with mental health issues.”
The Coalition says Medicare Locals aren’t working, with patients experiencing, “fragmented and disjointed health care” that results in poorer health overall and higher costs to the system.
A federal health department statement describes the replacement networks as “efficient corporate organisations” that will ensure services are aligned and working in the interests of patients.
“They will provide more efficient corporate structures that reduce administrative costs to ensure funding goes to provide frontline services to benefit patients,” it says.
“They will offer savings through economies of scale and greater purchasing power, have better planning capacity and increased authority to engage with local hospital networks and jurisdictional governments.”
Unlike the Medicare Locals there will be no peak national body to oversee and coordinate.
This year’s Budget slashed 10 per cent from FML’s Budget but the organisation says it has managed to maintain frontline services.
Fremantle state Labor MP Simone McGurk says the Street Doctor’s uncertain future is a great concern and she is scheduled to meet with FML CEO Christa Riegler next week.
by STEVE GRANT