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Summit Papers and Communiques

The 7th National Health Reform Summit


Held on 9 February 2016 at the Pavilion Hotel, 242 Northbourne Avenue, Canberra.

The 2016 Summit will focus on two issues on which very substantial improvement is still required:

  • Mental health; and
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

The Summit will also provide the opportunity for participants to influence the priority issues for AHCRA’s policy and advocacy work in 2016.

2014 National Health Reform Summit: DRIVING HEALTH REFORM: ‘ARE WE THERE YET?’

The Australian Health Care Reform Alliance held its 7th National Health Reform Summit
on 15-16 July 2014 at The Brassey Hotel in Canberra.

2014 Summit Communique, Presentations and Program

2012 National Health Reform Summit: the long and winding road

Day 1 – Health Reform

The ACHRA Summit brought members and key stakeholders together for two days of stimulating and vigorous discussion about the future of health reform in Australia. The first day covered the overall health reform agenda and the second focussed on oral health issues. A summary of the main sessions is following.

The Summit was opened by federal Minister for Health and Ageing Tanya Plibersek. The Minister gave an overview of the Government’s health reform agenda and re-iterated her commitment to involving consumers and stakeholders at all stages of the implementation process. She discussed how important access to health care was for people who are already disadvantaged as dental problems can reduce the capacity of people to gain employment and interact socially and professionally with others. She acknowledged the important work done by ACHRA and emphasised her willingness to listen and learn from members’ experiences and views.

Associate Professor Gawaine Powell-Davies from the University of NSW presented an overview of primary health care reform. He argued that primary health care can be defined in many ways, e.g. by the type of care, the location, the conditions treated or the philosophical approach. Similarly, there are a wide range of services which can be included in the definition of ‘primary health care’ but not all of these receive the same level of funding or policy attention.

In Australia, the services included in the definition of ‘primary health care’ (PHC) fall under the jurisdiction of federal, state/territory and (in some cases) local councils. This makes a developing a unified approach to PHC difficult. There is good evidence that overall a primary health care-focussed health system achieves better outcomes for a lower cost and is more equitable than one focussed on hospital-based care.

There is evidence from the UK and NZ that primary health care meta-organisations (like Medicare Locals) achieve positive outcomes, in terms of increased access to care and a greater focus on multi-disciplinary care. We need reform in PHC both because of external pressures (such as an ageing population) and internal problems (including poor coordination between services and workforce shortages).

The current reform agenda addresses some of these issues but overall it lacks a coherent vision for PHC and fails to address some central barriers to improvement, such as fee-for-service. To maximise the potential of the reforms, they need to engage with some of the ‘orphans’ in PHC (e.g. consumer self-help organisations), properly fund Medicare Locals, increase integration and accountability and develop funding systems which incentivise quality care.

Professor Stephen Duckett gave an incisive presentation identifying gaps in the reform agenda and some flaws in its implementation. He argued that there are always competing priorities in health – the key question for AHCRA is how to decide which priorities are the most important and whether that decision is based on equity considerations, ultilitarian values or other principles.

The aim of reform measures is to change behaviours of organisations, health care providers, communities and individuals.  This needs to be done with the available levers which impact upon the range of factors influencing behaviour, for example, financial incentives.

There are a number of new organisations but their relationships are not always clear. There are also some major gaps, including workforce, local responsiveness and financial barriers to access.  The main focus of reform measures should be improved access, quality and sustainability. All of these are achievable and do not need to be traded off against each other.

Quality has been an issue for some time and has not yet been adequately addressed. Sustainability can be addressed through improving efficiency and developing better workforce policies.  Efficiency should not simply be about cost cutting and should not undermine equity.  There is also a need for better quality data to support the reforms and measure performance.

There are some outstanding areas which have not been addressed sufficiently by the reform agenda: these include Indigenous health, consumer empowerment, the need to facilitate self-management, mental health, oral health, an integrated safety net, and Early Start.

Professor Fran Baum of Flinders University gave some historical context to the current reform agenda pointing out that it draws on the experience of community health centres, which have largely been forgotten in the mainstream health policy discourse.

Community health centres (such as Aboriginal Health Services) have people with the skills necessary to deliver integrated PHC, including community engagement and multi-disciplinary care.  It is important that their knowledge and experience is harnessed in the implementation of the reform agenda.

Professor Baum also discussed the current funding and reporting systems which she argued are overly complex creating an unworkable burden for small health services.  This will hinder the successful implementation of the reform agenda and stifle the necessary innovation and local flexibility required to deliver high quality health care.

Primary Health Care can be divided up into curative, preventive, rehabilitative and promotive services.  A population health approach focusses on what will improve health overall rather than how to increase capacity of health services. As the main causes of most health problems are economic and social the solutions must also be economic and social (rather than health care focussed). This requires responding to health problems by addressing underlying social, environment and economic factors.

The ‘Health in All Policies’ (HIAP) approach by the SA Government aims to include health considerations in the development of all policies and programs.  It was partly prompted by the rising health budget and recognition that this could only be addressed through a comprehensive approach.

HIAP works collaboratively with government agencies to apply a ‘health lens’ to all new policy proposals.  It has high level governance and support within government.  It provides benefits not just for health but for other sectors as well. HIAP provides an excellent model for promoting population health benefits through all legislation at a national level.

Professor Baum also cautioned against developing or promoting a ‘crisis mentality’ in health through media statements and other communications. Developing and maintaining a ‘crisis mentality’ in health may not be productive in promoting the need for a strengthened PHC sector and a focus on social determinants. Manufactured crises can play into the interests of existing power bases in health which often resist the need for reform.

AHCRA Chair Tony McBride posed the question ‘Has the reform agenda achieved its aims?’  Overall, he argued that there have been many measures introduced which deliver significant and lasting changes.   However many of these were changes to structures and processes and the impact of these on health outcomes cannot yet be determined.

There is a significant focus within the reform agenda on improving efficiency with a number of measures focussed on this outcome. There are also a number which aim to improve fairness and equity, although it is not clear how that will be measured.

There are not many measures which focus on stronger prevention and early intervention and very few on promoting consumers involvement and engagement in health care.  Overall, for the reform agenda to reflect AHCRA’s priorities there needs to be an increased focus on equity/fairness, consumer/community engagement and prevention/early intervention.

AHCRA needs to focus on how to advocate for these issues in order to influence the implementation process over the next 1-2 years.

Plenary discussions

The discussions at the Summit focussed on the need for primary health care to be placed at the centre of the Australian health system. Members agreed that this should be one of AHCRA’s key priorities in its advocacy and other work. The social determinants of health were also discussed as  crucial factors in affecting people’s health but which are often ignored by health policies and programs.  Participants stated that they supported a stronger consumer focus, with consumers taking on a more significant role in all aspects of health care decision making. They also strongly supported a system of universal affordable oral health care. Achieving both these goals was seen as relying on actions to improve equity.

Day 2 – Oral Health

The second day was titled ‘Why has dental health been getting the brush off?’ and was hosted jointly by AHCRA along with the NRHA, ACOSS, AHHA and PHAA .  Participants represented over 80 health consumer and provider organisations and came together to agree on how best to secure better dental health care in Australia.

Overall, participants supported a universal dental health scheme. However, they recognised that this may be a long-term goal with a number of smaller interim steps that needed to be considered first.  All of those at the meeting accepted that the additional resources promised by the Federal Government should be provided as entitlements to those in greatest need. This includes low and middle income families, Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, and people in rural and remote areas.

There was strong agreement on the need for a greater focus on oral health promotion, including through public health measures relating to fluoridation and food and nutrition. There was a discussion about the possibility of a national funded campaign to promote a universal dental care system.  To achieve this, participants felt that clearer evidence will be required about the community’s needs and how best to meet them in different settings. They strongly supported an approach to oral health care that places it within patient-centred primary care. They also argued for a flexible approach to funding so that the oral health workforce can work in partnership with other health care settings, such as GP clinics, aged care facilities and in services for people living with a disability. Oral health funding and infrastructure programs need to be flexible enough to support the more widespread adoption of alternative service approaches ( for example through public/private partnerships, co-located multidisciplinary teams, and mobile services).

A communiqué was issued by the Summit participants and representatives from the event took it in person to deliver to the Health Minister’s Office.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012, The Brassey Hotel, Barton, ACT

This year’s Summit focussed on assessing progress to-date with national health reform, especially primary health care, and setting the advocacy agenda for AHCRA.

PROGRAM

Day 1: Health Reform: the long and winding road – Summit 2012 program

Day 2: Oral Health (a joint event with ACOSS, AHHA, NRHA and PHAA) – Oral Health day program

The Summit was followed by a lobbying day in Parliament House.

PROCEEDINGS

Day 1: MP3 files and slides now available here
Overview of Day 1

Day 2: – ‘Why has dental health been getting the brush off?’ jointly run by NRHA, ACOSS, AHHA, PHAA and AHCRA. See www.ruralhealth.org.au for full proceedings.

 

A delegation from the Oral Health Forum arriving at Parliament House to deliver the communique to Minister Plibersek’s office: Martin Doolan (SA Dental Service), Andrew McAuliffe (AHHA), Tessa Boyd-Caine (ACOSS), Gordon Gregory (NRHA), Tony McBride (AHCRA) and Michael Moore (PHAA).

 

The 2011 Summit

The 2011 Summit was held in Canberra and focussed on the progress of the health reform agenda. The implementation of the reforms in primary care was a major focus and participants discussed how the new primary care organizations would need to work in order to deliver effective and coordinated care to consumers. The need to consider the social determinants of health when developing health policies and programs was also discussed in the context of health reform. Mental health was extensively discussed with participants agreeing that urgent action was needed to address current unmet need for mental health services.

 

The 2009 Summit

The 2009 Summit was held in Melbourne and focussed on the recommendations in the Final Report of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC). The main finding of the Summit was that although members were supportive of much of the work of the NHHRC, there were some critical gaps and areas in which more action was required. Specifically, AHCRA supported the proposal for a single, national health system with a strong focus on primary care. However, they also felt that there was a need to move away from fee-for-service payments to a blended system with payments being made for population-wide health outcomes. The ongoing subsidies for private health insurance were also criticized at the Summit as an inefficient and inequitable mechanism of funding health care.

 

The 2007 Summit

The 2007 Summit was held at Old Parliament House in Canberra and brought together AHCRA’s membership with experts in health reform and key political leaders, including the then Shadow Health Minister, Nicola Roxon.

Key recommendations from the conference included:

  • the pooling of public health funds nationally, devolving to flexible distribution
  • based on regions;
  • a national audit of current health expenditure and needs;
  • the need for comprehensive monitoring of outcomes of care that includes mandatory reporting of adverse events through open disclosure;
  • an evaluation of the policy of using public funds to subsidise private health insurance;
  • the need for increased information sharing, including through an electronic health record, to improve effectiveness and patient safety;
  • increased investment in health services research, with findings made public.

 

The 2005 Conference

The 2005 Conference was held in South Australia with 70 delegates participating, along with a number of invited experts. AHCRA had invited all Australian Health Ministers to attend on the second day and four of them, including the Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, as well as senior advisors from other states, attended and heard AHCRA’s position on the need for health reform in Australia and key strategies to achieve a more effective, efficient and equitable health system for the future.

 

The Inaugural 2003 Conference

In August of 2003 the Alliance staged a major conference to examine a raft of reform issues with the countries leading experts in the areas explored assisting an all invited sophisticated audience create a communiqué that represents a manifesto of what the Alliance stands for. The conference was politicised when it was boycotted by the then Federal Minister for Health but attended by a number of health ministers and then Premier of NSW Bob Carr. The conference received wide and supportive media coverage. On the last day the almost 300 delegates marched from Old Parliament House up the hill to the new Parliament building and presented the communiqué to politicians from all parties. Delegates promised to hold a second conference in two years to assess what progress had been made in implementing the policies advocated.

Summit Papers and Communiques

 


Communique 2008: Improving Australian Health Care Agreements
Report to COAG 2005
Summit 2003 Communique: Old Parliament House Blueprint for Reform

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