Australia’s Healthcare Services Not Fit for the Job

17 March 2009

An independent health body is needed to integrate Australia’s fragmented national health services so they can effectively respond to changing health needs, BCA Chief Executive Katie Lahey says.

Ms Lahey’s call follows the release of the BCA paper, Fit for the Job: Adapting to Australia’s New Healthcare Challenges, which sets out how healthcare services should evolve. Its conclusions come in large part from the experiences and expertise of BCA members.

“Our health services have many parts, but they do not function effectively as one system,” said Ms Lahey. “Australia’s health care is not fit for the job,” Ms Lahey said.

“We need a new independent health body that can break the current impasse and seamlessly provide for patient needs, boost efficiency and drive the reforms required to meet the needs of the future.

“We have good hospitals, but the pattern of disease has changed. Our biggest health problems are now chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes and dementia, which hospitalisation alone cannot cure. At the same time, costs are rising, there is a shortage of health workers, and health information systems are poor,” she said.

Ms Lahey said many of the issues within Australia’s health system had been developing for decades.

“The approach we have used to respond to health challenges in the past quarter-century will not do the job over the next 25 years. We need a system that is truly fit for the job ahead,” she said.

Fit for the Job will be included as part of the BCA’s submission to the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission’s review of Australia’s health system.

Ms Lahey said the BCA had entered the health debate because of the challenges issues such as an ageing population and rising chronic health problems present to our future workforce.

“Australia’s healthcare services are among world best, with life expectancy second only to Japan, but there is an urgent need for service provision to be reshaped to meet emerging needs. Unless we address these challenges now businesses will increasingly struggle to maintain skilled, productive workforces in the decades ahead,” she said.

The paper highlights that:

  • Australia’s health expenditure is projected to double over the next 20 to 30 years from around 10 per cent to 20 per cent of GDP.
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism are costing our economy $7 billion and about $25 billion a year respectively.
  • Medical errors, while good by world standards, may be costing up to $2 billion every year.
  • Between 20 and 30 per cent of current treatments are estimated to not be based on the latest research evidence.
  • Reforms to the system are lagging, including unacceptable delays in the establishment of the e-health network and efforts to improve monitoring and reporting of results.

The paper proposes the independent health body would:

  • Need to balance the short-term needs with the long-term vision for improving the health status of all Australians.
  • Be responsible for monitoring and publishing the outcomes of the system.
  • Ensure the development of a patient-based information system that supports both improved clinical decision-making and future health system planning.
  • Monitor issues of safety and quality and ensure equity of access.
  • Design incentives to encourage efficiency and innovation. It would not be an extra layer of bureaucracy.

“Improving Australia’s health is a critical economic issue,” Ms Lahey said.

“Our declining health status as chronic disease and the ageing of the population occurs threatens to jeopardise our future economic prosperity by reducing the numbers of people able to participate in the workforce and the productivity of those working. 

“The added life expectancy we enjoy is set to decline. We must take action now,” she said.

The paper highlights that a key reason for the lack of reform progress is the fragmentation and blurring of accountabilities for financing and service provision across the levels of governments and between policy portfolios within governments.

“There is a lack of capacity for any one area to exercise leadership and no national integrated database on which to base planning decisions, or monitor the performance and effectiveness of the system,” Ms Lahey said.

“As our health care services come under increasing pressure and failures receive daily media attention, the process of reform becomes ever more politicised and subject to short-term fixes.”

Fit for the Job: Adapting to Australia’s New Healthcare Challenges


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