Health reform spotlight

We headed along to the AMA annual conference recently held in Melbourne where Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek outlined the health reforms handed down in the 2012–13 Budget.

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At the recent annual AMA National Conference inMelbourne, Health Minister the Hon. Tanya Plibersek touched on the reasons behind the government’s health reform focus. Here’s a round-up of her speech.

Spending in a surplus budget

The government’s focus is allocating funding to the most marginalised in the community. Delivering a surplus, however, meant cost savings were required and Plibersek conceded, “it has been a difficult task to develop the health Budget”.

In drafting this year’s Budget, the Minister said the government’s two guiding principles were:

  • to build health, hospitals and aged care systems for a modern Australia that are truly centred on the patient and individual, getting maximum value for the taxpayers’ dollars and advancing the health and wellbeing of all Australians;
  • to ensure that those least able to look after themselves are looked after.

With those two principles in mind, Budget funding included the following areas of healthcare:

  • Regional hospital reform
  • Dental health reform
  • Bowel cancer screening
  • eHealth reform

1. Regional hospital reform

“Many people in rural and regionalAustraliahave poorer access to health services than other Australians,” noted Plibersek, “and, unfortunately, this results in poorer health outcomes.”

The government is investing $475 million in 76 projects for the Health and Hospital Fund (HHF), in a move designed to help bridge this city–country gap in health services delivery. “These build on the $1.3 billion allocated to 63 regional health projects in last year’s Budget and bring total HHF investments in improving health facilities to $5 billion,” said Plibersek.

2. Dental health reform

With approximately 400,000 people on public waiting lists, the Government says its $515.3 million dental reform investment is focused on Australians most in need – lower income Australians who have waited months, and in some instances years, for dental treatment and who have poorer dental health than their fellow Australians. “New spending in this Budget will see a blitz on public waiting lists to help meet the treatment and prevention needs of people who are eligible for public dental care,” noted Plibersek.

Funding will be allocated for additional dental training; for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) to support dental practitioners who provide pro bono dental health services; grants for dentists to relocate to regional, rural and remote areas; for expansion of the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program; and for the introduction of an Oral Health Therapist Graduate Year Program.

3. Bowel cancer screening

The Gillard government says it is committed to evidence-based policy and reprioritising towards prevention is the reasoning behind investment in bowel cancer screening. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death inAustralia. Each week, 80 people – most of them aged over 50 – die of this disease and is often preventable if detected early. $49.3 million will be spent to expand its free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program so that people turning 60 from 2013 and 70 from 2015 will be eligible for the screening program. Screening at regular intervals is expected to flag 12,000 positive tests and save between 300 and 500 lives annually.

4. eHealth reform

eHealth reform is a government initiative designed to convert paper-based clinical record-keeping to electronic records for easier and faster patient information exchange.

At its core, the reform intends to reduce the time clinicians spend chasing patient records – currently a key concern. In any one week, for instance, one in three Australian GPs see a patient for whom they have no current information and more than one in five GPs face this situation every day, noted Plibersek

Along with inadequate records, inaccurate records will also be targeted by the reform measures. “Soon after I became Health Minister,” noted Plibersek, “I heard the story of an elderly man who collapsed in a shopping centre from a perfectly preventable interaction between medicines. The incident occurred after the man’s GP and his specialist changed his medication independently of each other – without knowing what the other had done.”

It’s these types of incidents that eHealth reform – when it eventually gains wide usage – aims to help avoid.

Read the Health Minister’s transcript from the AMA conference. (Direct quotes above are sourced in this transcript).