Australians have been sending a very clear message for some time now on health:
- Australians want a world-class health system with a universal Medicare at its centre.
- Australians know our health system needs real reform.
- The push for reform is gathering momentum.
The Australian Health Reform Alliance, led by Professor John Dwyer, brought 250 health professionals together last August to plead the case for health reform.
Last August the states and territories were blackmailed into signing the Health Care Agreements by a Howard government that short-changed public hospitals by a billion dollars and ignored the promised reform agenda.
Despite this, the states have all engaged in considerable efforts to drive reform forward. The Howard government may be standing still but the states understand the consequences of not planning for the future.
Labor’s reform agenda
Labor has already outlined important health policies for the next election, including our plan to get doctors bulk billing again, our Australian Dental Care plan to get half a million Australians off dental waiting lists and into dentists’ chairs, and our plan to bring Medicare Teams of doctors and nurses to health hotspots around Australia.
Labor has also committed to a comprehensive health reform process.
Within the first month of the election of a Labor government, we will establish a National Health Reform Commission to drive the reform process. The head of the commission will not be a medical professional, but an expert in change management - a person agreed by the Commonwealth and State Ministers for Health and definitely not a politician.
Within three months the National Health Reform Commission will bring all the major players together in a Health Summit to develop an action agenda for the reform of the health system. Significant reforms will be in place within 12 months.
I want to outline some good ideas which should be considered as part of the reform process. They have great potential to deliver a better, healthier Australia.
(a) Prevention & Primary Care
Australia desperately needs an integrated primary health care and prevention strategy.
General practitioners are the backbone of our primary health-care system that today increasingly has a team approach. The team now includes practice and community nurses, and allied health professionals.
This is an edited version of a speech given to the National Press Club, Canberra on 21 April 2004. The full text is here.
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