Australia’s Health 2040: The right care, at the right price, in an efficient system

| August 8, 2019

Australia’s Health 2040, a cross-disciplinary taskforce facilitated by the independent policy institute Global Access Partners, has released a report outlining 19 reform options for the Australian health system to ensure a more sustainable future.

The report’s proposals include improving prevention and chronic disease management, better mental health services and more effective dentistry cover for children and vulnerable groups.  Other measures include greater investment in primary care technology, the elimination of low-value services, transparency around patient outcomes, and standardised national health data collection and reporting.

The reforms aim to improve everyone’s quality of life and the equity of health outcomes as well as balancing the system’s cost-effectiveness with the safety, quality and sustainability of service provision.

The group’s recommendations can be implemented within Australia’s federated model of healthcare funding and delivery, and are consistent with Medicare’s mission of ensuring adequate coverage for all.

The GAP taskforce was chaired by Martin Bowles AO PSM, the National Head of Calvary Health and former secretary of the Federal Department of Health. Mr Bowles played an integral role in driving significant reforms to government funding for public hospitals to achieve greater efficiency, safety and quality of care.

He notes that “It was a great pleasure to facilitate the Health 2040 taskforce. We have taken a pragmatic approach to this task as we recognised there are some fundamentals in the Australian health care system that make it one of the best health systems in the world. These fundamentals are Medicare and the mix of public and private sectors delivered across Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and private sector providers.”

The taskforce involved around 40 health professionals, academics, industry groups and consumer representatives.  Its members participated in a personal capacity through GAP’s innovative ‘Second Track’ process of engagement to explore the issues and achieve consensus.

Dr Rachel David, one of the taskforce members, said that the cooperative approach adopted by participants augurs well for the future of Australia’s mixed public private health system: “While stakeholders won’t agree on everything, we do know what the main issues are and what needs to be done. This process confirmed that. Maintaining the balance between our private and public systems is vital. Without further reforms to address rising healthcare costs, people will be forced into the public system. This will result in longer hospital waiting times, and a shortage of beds for the people who need them most.”

General practitioner Dr Kevin Cheng highlighted the broad representation of senior healthcare leaders on the taskforce.  “I found the discussion robust, apolitical, considered and conducted with a deep concern and passion for where our system needs to evolve. I thank the Chair, Martin Bowles, for orchestrating this process with GAP, and providing outstanding leadership to steer our ideas towards the end-product. This paper will hopefully be a relevant blueprint for immediate improvement and change.”

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, whose chief executive officer, Alison Verhoeven, also participated in the taskforce, have also released a statement welcoming the report.

“The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association supports Health 2040’s proposals to shift the focus in the Australian health system from volume to value. Sustained cultural change and cooperation across sectors will be required, along with redesigned funding and workforce models, measures of performance and outcomes, accountability and governance. We believe Australia must accept this challenge and put aside the vested interests which are increasingly proving a barrier to a sustainable, quality health system where all Australians can aspire to good health.”

The taskforce urges government agencies and health care stakeholders to adopt its recommendations over the next 18 months to help the healthcare system evolve to meet changing circumstances and provide a platform for more fundamental reform in the future.

“Health reform is hard and will take time,” says Mr Bowles. “If you look across the world any significant reform takes a minimum of 10 years. We need all parts of the sector and parliamentarians to leave self-interest at the door and sit down and work on ensuring our health care system remains one of the best in the world.”

The Taskforce was co-funded by GAP, EY, Bupa Health Foundation, Johnson & Johnson Australia and Westpac.

Subscribers to the Australian Financial Review and the Australian can read more about the report in this interview with Martin Bowles and this overview of the issues presented.