Saving Medicare requires better chronic care

The Consumers Health Forum supports Labor’s call to make the election a referendum on Medicare as long as it means asking voters if they want universal access to quality health care preserved.

If the future of Medicare is to be protected, a central objective should be to ensure the development of strong and effective national measures for both the prevention and treatment of chronic disease which stalks modern Australia.

“Australia’s political leaders should heed the message from health workers and consumers and throw their weight behind much-needed reforms to improve care for the millions suffering chronic and complex conditions,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said.

“A Parliamentary committee which has examined prevention and care of chronic illness  says it has been ‘overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and passion that many clinicians, researchers, patients and providers showed for improving the systems of chronic disease prevention and management in Australia’.

Ms Wells said: “We hope all political parties would take note of this finding at a time when many of the growing number of people with chronic illness struggle to get the right care and support.

“We have welcomed the initiative taken by the Health Minister, Sussan Ley, to establish trials of Health Care Homes in Australia.  These new services aim to introduce better coordinated care in the community for those with conditions like diabetes, arthritis, mental illness, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer who would benefit.

“But more vigour and funding is needed if Australia is to have chronic care arrangements in the community. Rock solid commitment must be given to ensuring that new chronic care service arrangements are designed and developed with healthcare consumers to ensure these services are patient-centred.

“We urge all politicians to rethink the fixation with hospital funding and focus on providing better organised and integrated primary, social and transitional health care in the community to reduce dependence on expensive hospital care.

“The report of the Inquiry into Chronic Disease Prevention and Management in Primary Health Care by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health backs the Minister’s initiative, saying that the introduction of Health Care Homes is a watershed moment in providing best practice care to chronic diseases patients in Australia.

“CHF agrees with the Committee’s conclusion.  As we said in our response to this week’s Federal Budget, it’s essential we get the implementation of Health Care Homes right.  This will need local clinical and consumer leadership and involvement in design and appropriate levels and models of funding.

“Success will also hinge on harnessing the Primary Health Networks as the infrastructure set up to ensure the system is better coordinated and general practice is supported to change and embrace new ways of working.

“This need not cost a fortune in funding – strengthening our primary care system is one of the most cost effective investments we can make Such an innovation will deliver good fortune to patient and save a fortune in reduced hospital visits but we must not underestimate the investment we need to ensure the trials are a success.

“The prerequisites are consistent with the Committee’s  comprehensive assessment of what is needed.

“The report notes that the complexities of chronic disease can make the interconnected web of primary health care ‘somewhat tangled’.  “The role the recently-established Primary Health Networks (PHNs) can have in coordinating and commissioning multidisciplinary services for chronic disease patients can only grow, the report finds.

“It has recommended that the Government consider measures to bolster the resources and organisation of community-based care, including through the new Primary Health Networks.

“We agree with the committee’s call for the Government to investigate expanding allied health treatments under Medicare and the role of nurses in chronic disease management.

“We strongly support the Committee recommendation that the development and implementation of the Health Care Home trials, be prioritised and continue to be developed in consultation with relevant expert panels.

 “The report states that self-management involves consumers adopting attitudes and learning skills that facilitate a partnership with carers, general practitioners, and health professionals in treating monitoring and managing their condition.

“We would go further:  consumer  involvement and leadership will be central to the development of an effective system for chronic care,” Ms Wells said.


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Mark Metherell
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