Anthony Albanese has pledged to create a health support service specifically for midwives and nurses left "completely burned out" by the pressures of COVID-19.
Speaking to an assembly of health workers in Melbourne on Wednesday, the Labor leader described the COVID-19 pandemic as a "lost" opportunity to reinvigorate Medicare, as he launched a plan for urgent medical clinics to ease pressure on hospitals.
Mr Albanese said nurses had been the "first port of call" for worried family members throughout the pandemic, and often a dying patient's only company.
He promised help would be "just a phone call away", including professional support services for stress and exhaustion, and referrals to doctors. "The pressure has left many nurses completely burned out," he said.
"And the tragic reality is that after two relentless years, nurses are leaving the profession. When we don't support our nurses, it has a ripple effect that is felt by every Australian."
The Coalition has attempted to frame itself as the more effective economic manager, but Mr Albanese warned a strong health care system was a "precondition for a stronger economy".
And after COVID-19 laid bare structural problems in Australia's health care system, the Labor leader accused the government of failing to seize the moment. "They have no plan for the future. They struggle with the present, and they refuse to learn from the past. What a lost opportunity that is," he said.
"If nothing else, the pandemic has given us some tough but vital lessons. And we must learn from every single one of them."
After the staged-managed event, Mr Albanese was poised to answer questions for 15 minutes, but cut short his Wednesday press conference - his only slated press appearance for the day - after just eight. Just minutes before a disastrous gaffe on the unemployment rate on Monday, Mr Albanese fired an aside at Prime Minister Scott Morrison, suggesting he would not "run away" from media scrutiny.
Labor has also pledged to trial urgent medical centres at 50 locations across the country, used to treat emergency but non-life threatening injuries - like broken bones, ear infections, and wounds requiring stiches.
The sites, to be based in GP clinics in each state and territory, would be open daily between 8am and 10pm, and enable patients to bulk bill via Medicare.
"Australians won't need their wallet, they'll just need their Medicare card," Mr Albanese said.
In 2007, soon-to-be prime minister Kevin Rudd pledged to create GP super clinics across the country to bolster service in areas lacking adequate medical support, but Labor struggled to implement them once in office.
Health Minister Greg Hunt accused Mr Albanese of going "back to the future" on what he described as "Labor's biggest health failure" in office. "Labor continues to scrape the bottom of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd election barrel for health policy ideas, reheating and rehashing the Rudd government's failed super clinics announcement today," he said.
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