Despite Australia’s semi-universal public health care system funded through Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and through subsidised private health insurance, there remains significant inequity in both access to, and provision of high-quality health care, evidenced by significant discrepancies in the health outcomes for Australians living in rural and remote locations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with mental illness and people living in socioeconomic disadvantage.
Australia faces additional challenges to its health care system. An ageing population and an increasing burden of chronic disease is placing pressure on physical and financial resources, including health care providers and care facilities.
What should be done:
- Prepare for the now-inevitable health consequences of global warming: heatwave-induced dehydration, heat exhaustion, vector-borne disease, burns, respiratory illness, and trauma related to extreme weather events, loss of homes and livelihoods.
- A health and emergency services workforce review to ensure Australia is capable of addressing emerging health challenges.
- A national audit of health facilities and resources to meet emerging health challenges.
- A centralised Centre for Infectious Disease, in the NHMRC with responsibility for research and health response planning.
- Develop a plan to fix the health inequity experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, those living in rural and remote communities, and those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.
- Better fund non-emergency surgery in public hospitals so wait times are reasonable.
- Better fund mental health services for disorders of anxiety, depression, bipolar, alcohol and substance use which together make up 68% of the disease burden.
- Develop a plan for gender equity in health outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged women and girls who experience chronic health conditions or male partner violence.
- Develop a prevention plan for injury in sport and encourage a wider set of physical activities for all age groups.
- Support and promote Aboriginal community leadership, prioritise Aboriginal culture, and community-driven initiatives by co-design, to improve health outcomes.
- Invest in public health interventions to reduce chronic diseases caused by smoking, poor nutrition, low levels of physical activity, and obesity. Two in three Australians are overweight or obese.
- Reform the health star rating system so it is mandatory for all foods, encouraging healthier food choices.
- Invest in more digital and telehealth services with better support infrastructure.
- Extend the dental health programs for pensioners and children, starting.
- with universal preventative dental care and incrementally moving towards universal dental health services.
- Bring health and medical research funding to 3% of the total health budget.
- Address medical workforce shortages, especially GPs and doctors in rural areas and increase rebates for longer consultations to improve quality of care.
A high-quality and comprehensive healthcare system that meets the diverse and complex needs of an entire population is essential for the maintenance and growth of a country’s overall prosperity. Quality health care is evidence-based, provided to those who will benefit, safe and patient-centred. An effective and efficient healthcare system recognises and respects that while healthcare is a universal right, access to healthcare must be equitable.