Put election focus on primary health system
The need for a strong primary health care system which is so important in the lives of millions of Australians with chronic illness should be a central focus of all political parties at the next federal election, the Consumers Health Forum says.
“Too often the value of primary health care delivered in the community gets overshadowed by the focus on hospital funding and waiting lists, yet as a new report shows there is an urgent need for a systemic shakeup in the primary health care system,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, says.
“While we want hospitals to provide quality care, Australia needs to shift attention more to the community-based services and how best our primary health system can serve the community.
“The report published today by the Grattan Institute details numerous elements of Australia’s primary health care system that are problematic, including out of pocket patient costs, and lack of federal and state government planning and coordination.
“It is a central flaw of Australian health care that, as the report finds, the lack of an overarching plan for primary health leads to ‘confusion, duplication and inefficiency’.
“The Federal Government has put in place the Primary Health Networks and the Health Care Homes trial which, with more resourcing and stronger direction, could turn around the organisation and effectiveness of primary health care.
“We have the expertise and leadership of GPs and other health professionals including specialists, pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists and psychologists yet too often the care they can provide is uncoordinated or out of reach because of cost or location for people most in need and with chronic and complex conditions.
“The Grattan Institute report, Mapping Primary Care in Australia, by Hal Swerisson and Stephen Duckett, says there is no overarching set of agreements between the states and territories to define the role of Primary Health Networks. PHNs have limited budgets, authority, and capacity to plan, coordinate and influence the development of primary care.
“As a result, the report says that in practice, the primary care system is largely unmanaged. There are currently no national institutions to guide the development of primary care in Australia. This makes it more difficult to develop and implement systematic reforms to primary care.
“Despite formal intergovernmental agreement that the Commonwealth has lead responsibility, the Commonwealth and the states continue to fund and regulate primary care services separately.
“The report finds that it is common for both levels of government to fund the same service types for the same populations, with little reference to one another.
“Community mental health services, alcohol and drug services, community health services and general practices are required to adhere to different service models, funding arrangements and accountability and reporting requirements.
“The report also calls for increased emphasis on prevention and early intervention to reduce the incidence and prevalence of chronic disease.
“We need to set clear objectives and measures for access, prevention, quality, outcomes and patient experience.
“So much of what this report is advocating involves better organisation rather than huge expenditure increases.
“We would hope all sides of politics take notice of this report in their policy formulation for the next federal election,” Ms Wells said.