Australia needs solid action on long-term health policy

The time for talk is over and it is now time for action, so let’s get on with it.

That was the take home message from AMA President Dr Tony Bartone who, while delivering his televised address to the National Press Club in Canberra, said Australia’s health system had too many problems to ignore.

The Government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison must deliver a big picture plan to deal with Australia’s growing ageing population and the rise in chronic illness and complex diseases.

Reviews, talkfests and inquiries must give way to real action.

“Two months on from the election, the need for significant health reform remains – and it must still be the Government’s highest priority,” Dr Bartone said.

“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.

“From maternity services to primary care, prevention to public hospitals, private health insurance to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, mental health care to Indigenous health to aged care, there are problems everywhere.

“All the parts are connected. You can’t just fix one and ignore the others. Our population is growing rapidly. It is ageing and the mix of disease is becoming increasingly more chronic and complex.

“This trio of drivers means that we need to improve and change our system – and change it fast.

“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.

“We did not see such vision in the election campaign.”

Dr Bartone said his message to Health Minister Greg Hunt was clear and simple, and one that he has already delivered to him personally.

“The time for talk is over. It is now time for action,” he said.

“Otherwise, Australia’s increasing rate of life expectancy will most definitely reverse its trend for the first time in the best part of a century.

“Otherwise, many hundreds of thousands of Australians will be added to growing public waiting lists.

“Otherwise, private health care might really become the exclusive domain of the very elite in our community.

“Otherwise, the equity and access that underpin our system will become a distant memory.”

After detailing the need for action on general practice funding, private health insurance and out-of-pocket costs, public hospital resourcing, aged care, Indigenous health, and mental health, Dr Bartone turned to the all-important need to invest in preventive health.

“Investment in prevention will give the Government the long-term savings it wants in the health budget,” Dr Bartone said.

“We need an overarching obesity prevention policy. This must include a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, and restrictions on junk food advertising to children. Let’s just do it.

“We need a new national alcohol strategy, including measures such as a volumetric tax and front-of-packet warnings on alcohol products. Let’s just do it.

“We need a dedicated preventative health promotion agency. Again – let’s just do it.”