No doubt the Federal Government will be campaigning hard on its record in health reform in the lead up to the election.
But there’s still plenty of room to improve its credentials in health reform, says Martin Laverty, the CEO of Catholic Health Australia.
“Who is likely to be the healthiest? Will it be an unemployed person who left school early, or a university degree qualified person earning more than $100,000?
Who is likely to die first? Will it be a person living in an affluent part of a capital city, or somebody in a not so wealthy part of an outer suburb or a regional area?
The answer to both, unfortunately, is that people in lower socioeconomic demographic groups have poorer health and die earlier than the more affluent. It’s not their fault, and it’s not fair.
There was great hope when the Rudd Government was elected that real change in health care was coming for those who needed it the most.
Part of the reforms then Prime Minister Rudd and Health Minister Roxon have championed will result in long term improvements to the financial sustainability of health care. They should be applauded for that.
Other reforms have the possibility to reduce waiting times for both elective surgery and emergency department admission. We’re yet to see if these new 4 hour emergency time targets and elective surgery targets can be achieved – we hope they do, and we’ve offered to play our role.
But health reform, with its focus on GST, missed many opportunities.
Catholic Health Australia (CHA), and its member network of hospitals and aged care services that on any given day care for one in ten of all Australians in a hospital or aged care bed, had higher hopes for real change in health care.
The hope we had was that those people in our community with the worst health would benefit most from the reform announcements.
The people with the worst health in our community are those within the lowest socioeconomic demographic. People in this group can die up to four years earlier on average than people in the most affluent socioeconomic demographic.
CHA presented to government evidence that the type of job a person holds, as a measure of socioeconomic status, is a better predictor of cardiovascular death than cholesterol level, blood pressure, and smoking combined.
CHA presented evidence to government that non-completion of high school is a greater risk factor than biological factors for development of many diseases.
Yet health reform didn’t tackle the social determinants of health. Simple matters like getting the best early childhood education, or completing school, or finding a job have a real bearing on your health and how long you live.
Health reform didn’t deal with the determinants of health. It didn’t deal with them because it’s hard, and because it involves policy well beyond the health system.
In releasing today the CHA Platform for the 2010 Federal Election, we’ve asked the next government to adopt in Australia the World Health Organisation’s Social Determinants of Health Framework.
We’ve also said the next Government should:
- Establish a Health Reform Implementation Advisory Council comprising non-government experts to help the reform process achieve maximum benefits for all Australians
- Ensure a choice of quality aged care is available to every Australian who needs it, with a focus on the needs of socioeconomically disadvantaged Australians
- Improve Australia’s palliative care services to provide care to all who seek it
- Establish a Prime Minister’s Mental Health Summit to build a robust system of mental health services to meet the needs of those with mental illness.
CHA’s full 2010 Federal Election Platform is available at www.cha.org.au/policy.
No Government likes criticism. Our focus on the health of people in socioeconomic disadvantage shouldn’t be seen is criticism. Instead, it is an encouragement for government to focus on those most in need. That is our mission. It is also a central role of any government.”