‘No more excuses’ on stalled diabetes strategy

3 minute read

Almost three years on, the national plan hasn’t moved past the start line and health services are ‘overwhelmed’.

The National Diabetes Strategy, signed by the government almost three years ago, remains without implementation plan or dedicated funding, as the diabetes epidemic trudges on.

Amid an ever-growing national diabetes prevalence rate, which is expected to reach one in 12 by 2050, significant socioeconomic disparities and a lack of well-resourced research, it’s time to “take stock”, said Labor MP Dr Mike Freelander, who is chairing the parliamentary inquiry into diabetes.

“It is urgent we do something about it because it is overwhelming our health services,” he said.

“It’s putting us in a situation where we are failing these families persistently and consistently, and urgent action is needed.”

Speaking to The Medical Republic, RACGP diabetes special interest network chair Dr Gary Deed agreed that there has been little progress since the birth of the national strategy in 2021.

But “we just have to have some patience,” he added.

“Intervening priorities” including a focus on covid, a change of government and other “reasonable political and environmental issues” are likely to have caused the delay, reasoned Dr Deed.

“However, I think there’s now no excuse for not moving forward,” he added.

While the federal government’s injections into general practice, such as bulk bulling incentives, constituted art of the move towards better care, “piecemeal approaches” can only get you so far and “leave gaps in adequate management”, noted Dr Deed.

He said it was clear from previous diabetes strategies that workforce has never been adequately addressed.

“Workforce remains one of the implementation tools to achieve those strategic outcomes [outlined in the NDS],” he said.

“We have a well-trained workforce that sees people at risk of diabetes and also with early and late diabetes.

“We could optimise the whole pathway of early detection, prevention and optimise management.

“It’s a no-brainer – and it’s called general practice.”

Dr Deed added that the focus on general practice needs to expand beyond support for managing patients with diabetes, to include support for general practice research and funding general practice guidelines.

“[There is an] absence of adequate research about what is happening right at the coalface, with people flowing through what is seen to be a very medication-expensive beast.

“It would be nice if we had better granular data on what goes on and what could be improved.

“That’s basics 101 of both sound economic health management and also sound policy development.”

While the government expects that all GPs practise “evidence-based” medicine, said Dr Deed, it doesn’t seem to apply the same rationale “from the top down”, meaning its own policies and funding plans aren’t backed by research or data.

“It seems an antithesis to rational thinking,” he added.

Speaking to The Australian, Health Minister Mark Butler did not address the lack of funding for the national strategy but said the said the government eagerly awaited the report from the ongoing parliamentary inquiry.

“While we await the outcomes of the committee’s work, our government has been focused on strengthening Medicare and general practice, which is at the heart of good diabetes care,” he said.

“Getting in to see your doctor and being able to afford your diabetes medication is critical in managing diabetes.

“This has been our priority as we have tripled the bulk-billing incentive and made medicines cheaper.”

Public hearings for the parliamentary inquiry have now ended.

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