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Health: Federal government commits to $1.4 billion COVID spend as aged care outbreaks continue

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The federal government has revealed it's spending an extra $1.4 billion to help healthcare providers and the aged care sector deal with the pandemic.

The bulk of the funding is being directed towards aged care to maintain programs like on-site PCR testing and the supply of rapid antigen tests.

While the health sector has welcomed the funding, there are concerns that it will only last until the end of December.

With fears of a new wave of COVID that could develop during the Northern Hemisphere winter, there are calls for clarity on whether funding will be extended into next year.

The funding announcement has been welcomed by the aged care sector, where COVID outbreaks are still a major problem.

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The chief executive of the Aged and Community Care Providers' Association, Paul Sadler, told the AM program there were 270 active outbreaks as of Friday last week.

"This is still very much an active pandemic response that we have in aged care at the moment," he said.

The bulk of the COVID response money — $840 million — is going to aged care.

"Practical measures like rapid antigen tests, PCR tests, and funding the extra staffing that aged care services have had to put on to deal with the pandemic is very welcomed," Mr Sadler said.

But he is concerned about what will happen after December.

"There's no resolution yet as to what the plans will be for COVID protection mechanisms into the new year," he said.

"But we do understand the authorities are concerned about a possible new wave of COVID potentially coming from the Northern Hemisphere, and further variants that may develop in the winter over there.

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"So we are all, I think — government and the aged care sector, the health sector — on notice that there could be another wave to come.

"And clearly, if that were to occur, we would be looking at enhanced protection mechanisms and additional funding to support aged care."

Health Minister Mark Butler said while the government had extended a number of measures until the end of the year, it would have more to say later this year about whether they would be extended again into 2023.

"There will be a need to retain some measures over the course of 2023 I'm very sure," he said.

"So over the course of the rest of this year we'll be considering the need for measures to be extended beyond 2022."

GPs welcome continued funding

Disability care and First Nations health services will continue to get money for personal protective equipment (PPE) and rapid antigen tests, and $48 million has been provided to extend free GP-led specialist respiratory clinics.

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The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Karen Price, said that will help smaller practices.

"It's providing support for vulnerable patients and also for clinics, which may be under some degree of financial stress at the moment," she said.

Dr Price also welcomed the extension of subsidies to allow GPs to prescribe antiviral medications via telehealth.

"That's quite a complicated consultation and that needs support," she said.

"So we don't want patients or practices making that very much more difficult when we're still trying to contain and manage this pandemic, as we transition to whatever next phase it's going to be."

And after a long few years for GPs, Dr Price said she hopes the federal support will continue.

"We're really hopeful that not only can this funding remain, if needed, but also that we look at the funding advocacy overall for general practice because Australia can't afford to work in a health system without general practice," she said.

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