Hume Medicare Local staff face anxious wait

STAFF at Hume Medicare Local face an anxious wait ahead of next month’s federal budget amid speculation the community health initiative will be axed.

Reports surfaced yesterday that the nation’s 61 Medicare Local services, which have only been operating about two years, are on the chopping block.

It is understood the services could close mid-next year and be replaced with larger, centralised agencies in metropolitan cities.

EDITORIAL: It's Local but for how long?

Hume Medicare Local chief executive David Dart was told of the possible closures last week, from an anonymous but “credible” source.

Mr Dart informed staff at the South Albury office, which employs more than 50 people, last Thursday.

“There was a bit of shock,” he said.

“We knew there had been a review (of Medicare Local) that was completed and sitting in cabinet but that it wouldn’t be released until the budget, which indicated there were some budgetary implications.

“But if this is the reality, then it has come out of left-field; it wasn’t anticipated by anyone in the industry.”

A closure could change how community health services are delivered on the Border.

The service also employs outreach workers for rural areas and also contracts services from other providers.

Mr Dart feared the needs of smaller communities would be overlooked in a larger organisation.

“For example, we’ve worked very hard to get a physiotherapy trial in communities in Urana Shire, we identified that need because we have people on the ground working with local health services,” he said.

“We have a good team on board here who come with a range of networks ... I don’t know how you can replace that.”

Liberal MP for Farrer Sussan Ley said she could not comment as the findings of the review had not yet been released, but said the government was committed to ensuring “service continuity for contracts into the next financial year”.

“That is a key focus and should reassure people who use those services,” she said.

Ms Ley said she understood the anxiety of staff but said “we do have to wait for the review”.

“Efficient service is important, as is the local provision of those services — those two things are important to me,” she said.

“I always support local providers but efficiency is also important.”

The scheme was introduced by the previous Labor government.

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