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.

Health care has historically focussed on the provision of acute, or hospital based, care. 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. 

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 and more money as we fail to keep Tasmanians out of the acute health (hospital) settings. The Federal Government ceased the National Partnership funding for Preventative Health adding further strain to an over-burdened system.

North West Tasmania has some of the poorest health outcomes in the State and nation with high levels of chronic disease and social disadvantage. These realities are known to impact negatively on the health and well-being of individuals.

 We have been fortunate to finally have quality cancer treatment centre built in Burnie. This adds to the Rural Clinical School and range of other allied health services co-located at the Burnie and Mersey hospitals that do provide support to both the acute and primary health services. 

To suggest millions of dollars should be spent on building a new acute health service (hospital) is unhelpful for many reasons. Whilst the money would technically come from different buckets, imagine what a difference we could make if this money was provided to support primary care and keep people out of expensive hospitals. 

Improving the health and well-being and 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. Programs and services aimed at supporting children and young people are lacking in many parts of the North West and sorely needed.

With the unfortunate high incidence of illicit drug use, particularly methamphetamine (Ice) usage, access to timely care is vital. It has been encouraging to see investment in this area by both State and Federal Governments but we need to be alert to meeting the rising needs in this area. 

Health matters to us all. 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 bucket of money is only so big. More must be spent on primary health not only to ensure we can pay for hospital services but more importantly as 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.

Hon Ruth Forrest MLC, Independent Member for Murchison

14 February 2017


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