Time for big picture health focus: doctors

Marnie Banger
(Australian Associated Press)


Australia’s health system is riddled with problems and the Morrison government must develop a big picture plan for dealing with it, according to the head of the powerful doctor’s lobby.

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone also stressed that vision must be backed up with enough cash.

“Two months on from the election, the need for significant health reform remains, and it must still be the government’s highest priority,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Our world class health system is simply groaning under enormous and ever-increasing stress.

“Underfunding, under-resourcing, poor access, waste, inequity, and inefficiency are commonplace.”

Dr Bartone said the government doesn’t need any more evidence to prove problems exist.

“The government has now got three years ahead. It has got three years of the benefit of many years of reviews and task forces, committees, submissions, inquiries,” Dr Bartone said.

“Call them what you want, the evidence is all there, we can now move to an implementation phase.”

His stark analysis comes as the Australian population is growing and ageing, with its mix of diseases becoming increasingly chronic and complex.

“All the parts are connected. You can’t just fix one, and ignore the others,” Dr Bartone said.

“That is why we need an overarching vision for our health system – innovation, clever thinking, and commensurate funding to set us up for the growing patient demands coming in the decades ahead.”

Suggesting specific improvements the government can make, Dr Bartone said there needs to be a more “blended” funding model for GPs.

The predominant “fee-for-service” model works well for most patients, but is more suited for treating acute health issues.

He argued private health insurance reforms must also address variation in rebates and the indexation of rebates to help curb the 15 successive quarters of decreasing coverage.

“This reform needs to start now. We can’t wait for another dozen quarters of decline. The death spiral is already under way.”

Immediate actions must also be taken to improve aged care, including the introduction of a minimum staff-to-resident ratio that matches the level of care needed in each facility.

The AMA also wants Medicare rebates boosted by at least 50 per cent for doctors who visit aged care centres.

Dr Bartone’s comments come after the government committed in May to creating a new long-term preventative health plan.

More than half of Australians are living with a chronic illness such as arthritis, cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease or diabetes.

Dr Bartone stressed the importance of investing in preventive health policies and the need for a tax on sugary drinks, restrictions on junk good advertisements to children and a new national alcohol strategy.

“We can’t expect the health system to continually get us out of a pickle because we have played gay indifference to looking after ourselves.”


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