Published: 14 February 2017

Failings in our health service delivery have again been highlighted in mainstream and social media. Communities rightly feel let down by State and Federal levels of Government when timely access to care is not available. We are repeatedly informed that the cost of health rises above the rate of inflation and if unchecked could consume the entire State budget in 20 or 30 years’ time. This may be the reality and should not be the end of the discussion.

Rather than spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new hospital imagine what a difference we could make if this money supported primary care and kept people away from acute services in expensive hospitals. 

Health care has historically focussed on the provision of acute care in hospitals. Primary care is more focussed on prevention. A greater focus on and priority given to health and wellbeing through wellness promotion, illness prevention, early intervention and chronic disease management programs, is essential. Not just with glossy brochures and words, but funding commitments and action from both State and Federal Governments.  

The recent decision to make the King Island Health Promotion Officer redundant, highlights the lack of support for health promotion in our regional areas. Health promotion officer, Sarina Laidler and her team have provided many effective programs that will be lost to an isolated community without ready access to acute care services.

We have been fortunate to finally secure a quality cancer treatment in Burnie, due in no small way to the generosity of a local benefactor. This adds to the Rural Clinical School and a range of other allied health services co-located at the Burnie and Mersey hospitals that provide support to both acute and primary health services. 

We continue to see the State Government commit, at most, five percent of the State health budget to preventative health measures with acute health services continue to demand more money as we fail to keep Tasmanians out of hospital settings. The Federal Government ceased National Partnership funding for preventative health adding further strain to an over-burdened system.

Improving the health and well-being of Tasmanians is not the sole responsibility of the health department. The solution lies within a ‘whole of government’ approach including the key areas of education, land use planning, transport, housing, arts and justice.

The demand for mental health services continues to exceed available supply. The majority of mental health care is best delivered outside the hospital system. Early intervention and support, mental wellness promotion and mental illness prevention are equally important. Sorely needed programs and services aimed at supporting children and young people are lacking in many parts of the North West.

Health matters to all of us. Investing in education is a key part of the solution to improving health outcomes. The time honoured ‘prevention is better than a cure’ needs to be the gold standard. Until State and Federal Governments invest more in primary care, that is, prevention of illness, promotion of health and wellbeing and early support and intervention, we will not see the costs of providing hospital services stabilise or reduce. 

The money bucket is not a magic pudding. More must be spent on primary health not only to ensure we can pay for hospital services but more importantly healthy people are productive people. Healthy people are happy people. Healthy people are much more able to contribute to the wellbeing of our beautiful State and region.


King Island Courier - 14 February 2017

Hon Ruth Forrest

Independent Member for Murchison


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