Hunter to become mega-region under health care reforms

The Hunter is destined to become a mega-region under health reforms to be rolled out next year.THE Hunter will become a mega-region taking in most of the New England and Central Coast regions when the Federal Government’s primary health care reforms are rolled out next year.

The new geographical boundaries, announced by Health Minister Peter Dutton on Wednesday, will transform the 61 regions currently serviced by Medicare Locals into 30 Primary Health Networks.

In NSW, 17 regions will become nine.

At stake are services including the GP Access After-Hours Service, which provides advice and treatment after-hours, diverting less urgent patients away from emergency departments.

Mr Dutton said the government will release an ‘Invitation to Apply’ process later this year to select Primary Health Network operators.

Hunter Medicare Local has indicated it is keen to continue running services and will participate in that tender process.

Dr Trent Watson, Hunter Medicare Local chairman, welcomed the announcement saying the new larger boundary had been anticipated.

“We appreciate that the larger size of the network may create some logistical challenges but we are very confident that the consolidation of financial and administrative functions will provide efficiencies that can be used to fund the type of innovative programs that our organisation has built its reputation on, Dr Watson said.”

‘‘Programs such as GP Access After Hours, Aged Care Emergency and Connecting Care are currently reducing unnecessary hospitalisations and improving health outcomes and we look forward to continuing the delivery of these programs and the development of new initiatives as a partner in the new Primary Health Network covering our region.”

The new mega-region reaches from Taree in the North to Gosford in the south, and west to Tamworth and Qurinidi.

The health minister said the new primary health networks will aim to drive efficiencies and better direct health funding to the delivery of frontline health care services.

“Primary Health Networks will deliver better health outcomes for Australians over time by improving the links between local health services and hospital care, and through the better targeting of available funding on effective health programmes,” Mr Dutton said.