After the Colloquium: Connecting Consumers

Bring more than 60 consumer advocates and stakeholders with an interest in supporting consumer leadership from all around Australia together and what do you hear?

We need to ‘get it together’ more, was the overarching message.

And ‘getting it together’ can come in a variety of ways, whether by collaborating with other consumer-focused organisations, mentoring and supporting consumer advocates, exchanging ideas, seeking government and community support, or, not least, gathering at meetings like the Consumer and Carer Leadership Colloquium held in Canberra on 21 March 2017.

The purpose of the colloquium, organised by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Mental Health Australia and the National Rural Health Alliance, was to provide the opportunity for consumers, particularly emerging advocates, to join a day of talking and listening about strengthening the role of the consumer in shaping health care.

Colloquium comes from the Latin for conversation. This event turned out to be a roomful of conversations. Throughout the day nine group tables thrashed out issues revolving around how they can best empower consumers to become ‘makers and shapers’ of a 21st century health system.

The Secretary of the Federal Health Department, Martin Bowles, opened the day declaring the needs of consumers should be at the centre of healthcare services, not just to make life easier for patients, but also to “produce efficiency and financial advantages for the health system”.

“In the next two decades, $2 trillion will be spent on health --- clearly, this is not sustainable. That’s why reform is so important and consumer involvement must be part of it.  We must see real change underway to wrap the system around the consumer,” Mr Bowles said.

And he pointed to two big changes, the establishment of the PHNs and the Health Care Homes initiative as developments that will generate demand and opportunities for consumer health advocates to make a difference. 

This is a huge shift, moving the focus from practitioner and provider to individual needs of consumers.

But it will require more cohesion for consumer advocates from across the country and from within the 31 PHNs to overcome current disconnections among them and build ways of sharing their experiences, successes and failures. 

And it will require investment in consumer leadership development and consumer networks. Clinicians have enjoyed the benefit of professional and peer networks for many, many years and have utilised these to influence decisions makers. It is time the same investment and support is given to supporting consumer advocates to develop as leaders and system shapers. It is time to redress the power imbalance.      

The Colloquium participants, while acknowledging there was a universal need for more resources to promote health consumer interests, largely agreed on the need for advocates and organisations to be better connected both with their supporters but also with other consumer groups.

They wanted to see cost-effective developments, funding best practices for mentoring and building communities of consumer practitioners. The point was made that unified approaches by consumer organisations and coherent well-argued proposals were more likely to get the ear of the Health Minister.

The value of having health consumers tell their stories of experiences with healthcare, the recognition that chronic patients can know more about their individual condition than the doctor, were mentioned as elements that can fuel consumer power.

So despite a gathering of diversity in age, background, and specialty among those present, and despite a big flush out of ideas, there was an acceptance of the need for shared ideas and effort.

And an effective, organised and mobilised consumer corps will become ever more vital as agents of change governments face increasingly fraught decisions to resolve health funding dilemmas.

We need to make those strong connections now.


Hear from some of the consumers who attended in the video below.


About the author

Leanne Wells

Leanne Wells

Chief Executive of the Consumers Health Forum of Australia