Ahead of the national federal election tomorrow, the Australian Medical Association has been accusing both the government Coalition and opposition Labor parties of ignoring health care issues. However, just two days before voting, the AMA reported that its assessment of the parties’ announced plans for health care had just given the Coalition the edge.

AMA president Rosanna Capolingua, said that, overall, both parties’ health policies were disappointing and did not meet community and voter expectations for what, to them, is the biggest election issue. However, she added that the Coalition’s practical measures to expand medical training positions in both the public and private sector to increase doctor numbers were “the most significant response to the medical workforce shortage.”

"The Coalition has recognised that investing in training is necessary in order to ensure we have enough doctors to work in our hospitals and in the community,” she said, adding: “it is disappointing that Labor has not shown a commitment to doctor training.”

Dr Capolingua also praised the plans put forward by the Coalition - which has been in power for 11 years and is led by Liberal Prime Minister John Howard - for GP-supervised practice nurses, and said the AMA preferred its proposed Family Emergency Medical Centres as a way of relieving pressure on hospital emergency departments to the Super Clinics put forward by Kevin Rudd’s Labor party. However, she said the biggest disappointment in the election health debate had been the failure of both sides to invest significantly in the long-term future of the health system in regard to public hospitals, indigenous health, rural health and aged care.

“We know that Australia is prosperous, but both major parties fell well short of committing to the major funding needed to bring our public hospitals up to standards that should be delivered in this country,” Dr Capolingua said.

The AMA says A$3.00 billion, or around $2.63 billion, in new funding from the Commonwealth should be included in the first year of the next Australian Health Care Agreement (AHCA), and that a minimum 3,750 new hospital beds are needed. “The single biggest pledge that any party could make would be to significantly increase the number of beds in our public hospitals,” said the AMA president.

The Coalition had made this pledge, but did not back it up with the funding details, she said, adding that while Labor’s national preventative healthcare strategy was “good in theory,” it too was “lacking detail and not backed with any significant funding announcements.”

However, the annual conference of the Australian General Practice Network has supported Labor’s proposals for a National Primary Health Care Policy. The plan, which was outlined to the conference by shadow health minister Nicola Roxan, would provide an overarching strategy to improve the health of Australians by addressing issues such as obesity, said Tony Hobbs, chairman of the AGPN (formerly the Australian Divisions of General Practice). In contrast, Health Minister Tony Abbott has not yet committed to any such strategy, the conference heard.