Blog Post: Good and bad news on health system report card - Mark Metherell

This blog post in brief

Mark Metherell, the Consumers Health Forum's Communication Manager, dissects the recent Council of Australian Government’s Reform Council report on how well our health system is performing. In summary, while Australia has made some great strides in such areas as lower rates of heart attack and lower instances of diabetes, asthma and hypertension leading to less preventable stays in hospital, there are still many improvements to be made in areas such as indigeneous health, health inequities and the obesity epidemic.

Good and bad news on health system report card

Australians have now got the most complete statistics yet on how our health system is performing.  The news is mixed with some surprisingly good outcomes contrasted with some disturbingly negative features.

Fresh figures which in many instances for the first time give a progress result have been released by the Council of Australian Government’s Reform Council

One of the most remarkable revelations was the very big drop in heart attacks, down by a massive 16.2 per cent between 2007 and 2010.  In the most-affected age group, those aged 65 – 74, the rate fell by nearly 20 per cent meaning heart attack numbers fell by 233 for every 100,000 people.

Another bright spot was a sharp fall in potentially preventable hospitalisations, which dropped by 7.3 per cent.  In 2010-11 the number of cases involving diseases such as diabetes, asthma, angina and hypertension fell by 38,000 to 265,000 potentially preventable hospitalisations. 

And the rise for the most recent year alone saw that potentially preventable hospitalisations due to chronic conditions dive by a dramatic 14.9 per cent.

And now the unwelcome news.   Despite all our advances, indigenous Australians are still markedly less likely to enjoy good health.  The rate of indigenous infant mortality was 7.4 deaths per 1,000 births compared to a rate of 3.9 for non-indigenous babies.   Indigenous Australians are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as non-indigenous Australians.

The evidence of inequity is seen elsewhere in our “universal” health system.    Elective surgery waiting times for public hospital patients from disadvantaged areas are a median 44 per cent longer than for those patients from the least disadvantaged areas.

Most people can see a GP for an ‘urgent’ appointment within four hours.  But the proportion who waited more than one day has risen from about 10 per cent in 2010-11 to nearly 30 per cent last year.

On smoking rates, Australians overall are steadily beating the nicotine addiction…smoking rates down from 19.1 per cent of the p9opulation five years ago to 16.5 per cent last year.   But intriguingly there is quite large variation in rates among the states and territories, with Tasmania and the Northern Territory above 20 per cent, the remaining states around the 16 per cent market while NSW was just below 15 per cent and the ACT even lower at about 14 per cent.

In contrast, Australians are struggling in the fight against fat.  In the five years to 2012, there was no significant change in the proportion of adults or children.   The survey found that 69.3 per cent of children were “normal” body weight, that is a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9, that was up from 67.7 per cent five years ago.  For adults, 35.4 per cent were normal weight, down from 36.9 per cent.

The fourth report on the National Healthcare Agreement, Healthcare 2011-12: Comparing performance across Australia is now available on the COAG Reform Council website.

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About the author

Mark Metherell

Mark Metherell joined the Consumers Health Forum of Australia as Communications Manager in February 2013. Previously he was the Canberra based health correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, a position he held since 1999. He was also medical reporter for the Age in the 1980s. In a newspaper career spanning 40 years, he has held a variety of other posts including news editor and defence and foreign affairs correspondent.