PM’s preventive health focus a welcome hint. Here’s hoping for much more

The Prime Minister’s promise of a new focus on preventive health marks a welcome development after some years of federal inactivity in this area, the Consumers Health Forum said today.

“While Mr Turnbull  only hinted at a “new focus” on preventive health, we hope it will involve significant measures to counter the diet of sweet drinks and fatty foods that are setting so many Australians up for obesity and chronic illness,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said.

“We also welcome the Prime Minister’s mention at the National Press Club of the moves to deliver Health Care Homes and mental health reforms.

“We will support the efforts of the new Health Minister, Greg Hunt, to drive the development of a 21st health system, as we did with his predecessor.

“The promise of preventive health measures and support for Health Care Homes --- whose aim is to deliver better coordinated care particularly for those with chronic illness --- we hope signals stronger Government support for the health innovations Australia sorely needs.

“The reality is that so much chronic illness can be curbed through effective preventive health measures aimed at reducing poor diets and promoting some level of physical activity as an everyday occurrence for all Australians.  The benefits would be immense for the nation’s physical and fiscal wellbeing.

“These steps however will be illusory without much more substantial funding to support the sort of coordinated primary health care and population health measures that are within our capacity and that Australians need.

“Better population health and community based care supported by Health Care Homes will reduce the huge costs generated by chronic illness. 

“The latest Report on Government Services shows that in 2015-2016 the public hospitals treated 2.8 million cases of people with conditions that could have been treated by general practitioners.  That represents hundreds of millions of avoidable expenditure in public hospitals when GPs and other clinicians working in the general practice setting such as nurses can provide the appropriate care required at a fraction of the cost.

“Yet GPs are being penalised by the freeze on Medicare payments when the total cost of their services has risen by less than two per cent person per year over the past six years.

“We hope that Mr Turnbull and Mr Hunt will get the message that a health system that is people-centred with a strong preventive and primary health care backbone is good for our health and for the economy,” Ms Wells said.

“We have all the right ingredients to reorient our system to a people-centred one focused on better care in the community.  We have well-trained clinicians who, with the right funding, can deliver team- based, personalised care.  We have regionally located Primary Health Networks who have developed deep insights about local health needs and have the potential to commission care.  And we have a national digital health strategy that can reboot moves to embed shared electronic health records and secure messaging so that we can all enjoy better connected care.   

“All this needs to be brought together in a preventive and primary care system designed in consultation with consumers combined with a commitment to lift the Medicare freeze – which will otherwise only continue to be a barrier to access, affordability and innovation, ” Ms Wells said.


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Mark Metherell
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