The plan that could make Australia the world's healthiest country

Australia has long been known as ‘the lucky country’ (a phrase that was meant to be an indictment on our political leaders*), but could we become known as the healthy country?

When it comes to our health performance, Australia already performs very well. We are ranked seventh overall on the Bloomberg Global Health Index, thanks to a high life expectancy and good access to public healthcare through Medicare.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) believes we should be aiming to be the healthiest country in the world and has outlined its plan to make it a reality.

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Speaking at the National Press Club this week, AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid said that Australia’s approach to health reforms in recent years had been “stagnant or piecemeal” and said it was now time for a comprehensive plan to take us forward.

The AMA released its Vision for Australia’s Health, which provides a blueprint to secure a robust, sustainable health system for decades to come with high quality, patient-centred care at its heart.  

The vision outlines areas of the health system in need of reform based around general practice, public hospitals, private health and an equitable, innovative health system for all.  

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The AMA says reform in these areas will relieve financial pressure and demand on the healthcare system while improving the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. 

“While it’s right that we deal with COVID-19, we equally need to address the other pandemic we’re living with and have grown accustomed to – chronic disease and obesity in particular,” Dr Khorshid said.  

“I want to lift our eyes beyond the immediate, and focus on a healthier future for all Australians, and I want to propose the goal of becoming the healthiest country in the world.  

“I believe this is a realistic goal and should be our collective aim, but to achieve it, we must overcome the ‘short-termism’ of governments with their eye on the 24-hour news cycle, the next election win and the buck passing of federalism.”

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Chronic disease accounts for two-thirds of the overall burden of disease in Australia and data shows 13.4 million Australian adults (67 per cent) are obese or overweight.

“We cannot expect an under-funded system to absorb the late-stage complications of an ageing, chronically ill and obese society,” Dr Khorshid said. 

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that our health system is the backbone of our economic success.  

“During the pandemic we’ve let medicine and experts lead the way, and we’re enjoying one of the strongest economies globally as a result. Investing in healthcare really is the best thing we can do for our society and our economy.”

Here are the five main pillars the AMA suggests need targeted reform for Australia to become the world’s healthiest country.

Bolstering general practice
Primary healthcare professionals control or influence 80 per cent of healthcare costs, yet spending on general practice accounts for only 8 per cent of total government health spending.

The AMA will continue to campaign for increased access to high quality general practice for people in nursing homes and for better support for GPs who visit nursing home patients.    

Public hospitals
Our public hospitals are overwhelmed, according to the AMA.

“We are seeing nationwide ambulance ramping resulting in avoidable harm. Our vision is for an evolved and adequately funded public hospital sector, providing for timely elective and emergency treatment, greater linkages to primary care and more transparent and simplified commonwealth-state funding arrangements.”

Private health
Falling private health insurance membership has left the private health system underfunded and ailing.

“Our vision is for a reinvigorated and resilient private health system, which complements the public hospital system by providing high-quality, timely and affordable care in a sustainable way. The AMA will broker a summit of private health sector leaders to drive a reform agenda.”

A health system for all
“Our proud system of equality in Australian healthcare should be defended and maintained.

“Our vision is for a sustainable health system achieved via policy and sustainable funding reform with prevention the foundation of healthcare planning and design. Access for all Australians remains a key feature of our system.” 

A health system for the future
Embracing new technology and innovation, better use of data and technology, consolidating the gains from COVID-19 reforms, and building upon them to facilitate better access for all patients.

Do you think Australia could become the healthiest country in the world? Where do you think our health system could improve? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

*The full quote from Donald Horne’s 1964 book The Lucky Country is: “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

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Written by Ben



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