The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has today welcomed the commitment by shadow health minister, Catherine King, to establish a permanent policy-making body to address key challenges such as chronic disease, long hospital waiting times and workforce shortages.
The proposed Australian Health Reform Commission will function in a similar way to the Productivity Commission and will deliver advice to Commonwealth and state ministers through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), as a means of holding ministers accountable for progressing reforms.
RACP Policy and Advocacy Chair, Professor Niki Ellis, said the establishment of a policy-making body, charged with the responsibility of overseeing health reforms, was long overdue and would be a welcome addition to the sector if implemented.
“In particular, RACP welcomes the renewed focus on chronic disease management and improving access to public hospital specialists, two areas in which the College has repeatedly called for urgent attention and reforms,” said Professor Ellis.
In its 2019/2020 pre-budget submission the College draws attention to the urgent need to reconfigure health services, given that a high and increasing share of the community faces multiple chronic conditions.
“The management of chronic diseases is particularly complex, with patients forced to navigate between primary care, hospital and specialist services,” said Professor Ellis.
“RACP supports a patient centred, multidisciplinary integrated care model which draws on the expertise and skills of specialists, general practitioners, allied health professionals and care coordinators.
“In light of these complexities, policies relating to secondary and tertiary health sectors should not be seen as separate from reform of primary care, rather they should be treated as interlinked and requiring common structural reforms,” said Professor Ellis.
“One such example of a structural reform is the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to invest a modest share of current funding for public hospital activity into a common pool to be jointly managed across the different health sectors to address chronic disease. This recommendation should be considered by the proposed Australian Health Reform Commission.”
In addition, RACP welcomes the focus of the proposed Commission on minimising barriers to accessing care and improving health outcomes for disadvantaged Australians.
“While we have seen a drastic improvement in the overall quality of health of Australians over the last few decades, glaring inequalities in health outcomes persist which need to be immediately addressed,” said Professor Ellis.
In recognition of the need to address these health inequalities, particularly in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, RACP has developed the Medical Specialist Access Framework which is aimed at improving specialist access for these patients. This is in addition to the RACP’s Indigenous Strategic Framework which aims to grow the Indigenous physician workforce and equip and educate the broader physician workforce to improve Indigenous health.