Good talk – now do something: AMA

5 minute read

President Steve Robson says healthcare should be seen not as a cost but as an investment.

The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce and Budget have set “very high-level directions” for health reform, but now is the time to take concrete steps to make primary care viable for both GPs and patients, says the AMA president.

“The Taskforce, and to the government’s credit, the Budget have sent a very strong signal to the nation’s general practitioners,” Professor Steve Robson told the National Press Club today.

“They’ve said, ‘we get it’.

“That signalling is very important, but I think acknowledgement of the problem has now largely been done and the time is now to move forward.

“We’re very keen to move forward with the government and help them look at the next steps,” he said.

“There are lots of challenges – nothing is insurmountable. What is going to deliver a health system? What’s going to make general practice healthy for Australians?

“Because it’s much cheaper to be managed by a GP than have a hospital admission and see someone like me, at the end of an admission at a public hospital.”

Professor Robson’s speech called on governments to shift their view of healthcare from a “spending portfolio” to a “productivity portfolio”.

“We should be spending to save. The evidence abounds for the benefits.”

In a report from the AMA released with the speech, the AMA found that the cost to the economy of lost wages from patients waiting on public hospital elective surgery waiting lists was around $4.6 billion per year.

Other big numbers in the report include:

  • Investing in the delivery of evidence-based wound care will save an estimated $203.4 million over four years. This is a return of $8.68 for every $1.00 invested.
  • Investing in primary care for Australians over 65 years in the community and aged care residents would save an estimated $21.2 billion over four years through preventing avoidable hospital admissions.
  • Addressing hospital exit block is estimated to save $811.6 million to $2.17 billion per year.
  • It is estimated that investing in private out-of-hospital models of care for total knee replacements will save around $11,000 per clinically eligible person.
  • A tax on select sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce sugar consumption by 12 to 18 per cent, which is 27,596 to 43,804 tonnes of sugar, and raise annual government revenue of $814 million to $749 million.
  • It is estimated that the reduction in chronic disease would result in health expenditure savings of $609 million to $1.73 billion.
  • The estimated benefit of telehealth from reducing travel in 2021–22 was $1.35 billion.
  • AMA analysis demonstrates that further integration of telemedicine across both the public and private sectors, including telehealth appointments, remote monitoring, out-of-hospital care, and use for prevention and early intervention could save up to around $14 billion each year.

“I’m hopeful that Treasury’s focus on Measuring What Matters genuinely means what it says,” Professor Robson told the NPC.

“Because that means there is real potential to reenvisage what the health portfolio could be. Not a cost to bear, but an investment to make.”

Medicare was designed in the Hawke years but apart from the redundant funding model, patients had fundamentally changed since then, Professor Robson said.

“Over the same period more Australians have been battling with more and more chronic health conditions.

“Around half of all Australians now have at least one chronic disease and our population is rapidly ageing. We now have one of the highest prevalences of obesity in the OECD. Nine out of 10 preventable deaths are associated with chronic disease.

“At a time when our prime age workforce is shrinking, making sure every single Australian is functioning at their peak should be a no-brainer.

“Because at the end of every budget line item, every GDP statistic, every health measurement, is an Australian.”

Professor Robson was asked how politicians could be made to look beyond the electoral cycle to making long-term health reforms.

“When people are asked what it is that’s most important to them, we hear two responses — their family, and their health,” he said.

“Surveys across the globe confirm this. Good health is the foundation that allows us to pursue all our life goals.

“When Ipsos surveyed Australians and asked, ‘what makes somewhere a good place to live’ — the two top responses were ‘feeling safe’ and ‘access to good quality health services’.

“At the end of the day politicians need to be re-elected,” he told the press club.

“We have to make sure that when they go to their constituencies, they’re talking about things that are important to people. We know that health is really important to people. It should be an easy sell.”

The healthcare system was like a helicopter, he said – a series of interacting parts moving with opposing forces but moving overall in the same direction.

“All of those things that are constantly trying to work against each other to keep the things stable. And somehow a helicopter flies.

“We need to think of the health system like that helicopter, and make sure that we do have these opposing forces, but they’re all working toward the common goal.

“And that is to give us a healthy country because we know a healthy country is an economically prosperous country.”

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