Improving National Health Systems

The Budget provides $207.2 million for measures to develop national systems for better health service delivery, including a National Health Call Centre Network, further development of e-health systems, and expansion of Australia’s immunisation register to cover adults and children.

Page last updated: 09 May 2006

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9 May 2006
ABB065/06

The 2006-07 Budget contains a number of measures to develop national systems for better health service delivery. This includes creation of a National Health Call Centre Network to provide advice to consumers, further development of e-health systems for storage and transfer of patient information, and expansion of the immunisation register to cover adults and children.

Supporting the COAG commitment to a National Health Call Centre Network

Health call centres are an effective and popular way to provide the community with healthcare information and advice, without time or geographic restrictions. Good access to accurate information helps people to make better decisions about their health care - for example, whether or not to seek help in a hospital emergency department - and can also improve confidence in the health system.

At the 10 February meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the Commonwealth, states and territory governments agreed to provide a total of $176.4 million over five years to create a national network of call centres. The Commonwealth contribution will be approximately $96 million ($100.4 million including departmental costs).

The National Health Call Centre Network (NHCCN) will begin operations in July 2007 and is expected to provide national coverage by 2011. It will provide a triage service (ranking calls according to assessed urgency), with advice and information provided mainly by nurses, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Information used in the network will be based on the latest medical evidence.

In addition, the Commonwealth, states and territories will provide funding of up to
$20 million to ensure that mental health services are an integral element of the National Health Call Centre Network.

The network will build on the existing call centres already operated in a number of states and territories. Contractors will provide call handling, triage software and service directory licences, using only Australian-based call sites.

A key feature of the NHCCN will be an enhanced capacity to support mental health and the ability to add on extra services, as required, either at the state/territory level or nationally.

The corporate structure for the NHCCN will be set up in August 2006.

Establishing the foundations for a National Electronic Health Records System

Work will begin in late 2005-06 and will be completed by the end of 2008-09 on creation of core national infrastructure to enable linkage of information across the health sector.

The national records system is estimated to cost $130 million over three years, of which the Commonwealth Government will provide approximately $65 million with the remainder provided by the states and territories, as agreed by the Council of Australian Governments in February 2006.

The national infrastructure will include three key elements:
  • An Individual Health Identifier (IHI)
    An IHI will ensure patients (with their consent) are correctly identified as they move from one part of the health system to another. This will also ensure patients can be quickly and correctly identified in emergencies.

  • A unique Health Provider Identifier (HPI)
    A HPI will confidently and uniquely identify both individual healthcare practitioners and healthcare provider organisations, verify that the provider is registered and authorised, and improve the reliability of manual and electronic communications between providers.

  • A national approach to clinical terminology
    A national approach to clinical terminologies will provide a common "language" for the exchange of health information. This "language" will ensure agreed health related terms and concepts are used in the national electronic health record.
The development of national standards in these areas will result in improved safety and quality of health care by reducing medical errors and enabling more effective coordination of care between providers, especially for patients who are aged or chronically ill. Where possible, these core elements will be aligned with other health information initiatives such as the possible Smartcard.

Organ donation - increased funding

Organ donations provide the opportunity for about 700 Australians each year to receive life-saving organ transplants. However, Australia does not have enough organ donors to meet the needs of people requiring transplants, and continues to lag behind other OECD countries in our rate of organ donation.

As a result, up to 2,000 Australians are waiting for organ transplantations at any one time. Tragically, each year some of these Australians will die waiting. Organ shortages also place a significant burden on the health system, for example from the demand for treatments such as kidney dialysis.

In response, the Government will provide $28.4 million over four years to fund a variety of national initiatives to improve rates of organ donation in Australia, including:
  • community awareness campaigns to encourage donation
  • making it easier for people to register to donate their organs
  • improving the quality and safety of organs for transplantation
  • improving our transplant waiting lists systems
  • supporting the Australian and World Transplant Games
  • establishing a national taskforce of expert clinicians and specialists to guide these initiatives.

Australian Childhood Immunisation Register - redevelopment scoping study

The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) currently monitors childhood vaccination coverage rates and reports on the immunisation status of all Australian children aged up to seven years.

The Government will provide $1.2 million over 2006-07 and 2007-08 to explore options for redeveloping the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) into a whole-of-life register that includes adult immunisation, including with tetanus, influenza and pneumococcal vaccine, with the potential to improve health and reduce wastage of expensive vaccines.

The study will test options for a register which could include information on privately-provided vaccines, and expand as new vaccines are made available. It will also examine the feasibility of integrating the immunisation register with other health registers such as the organ donation and bowel screening registers.

Streamlining food regulation processes

Australia's system of food standards is comprehensive and ensures public safety, but the time taken to make changes to food standards can discourage innovation. Currently, applications from industry to change the Food Standards Code can take up to 24 months.

The Government will provide $2.9 million over two years from 2006-07 to implement streamlined procedures by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, with the aim of significantly reducing the time taken for approval of new food standards. This will involve consultation with stakeholders and formation of an ongoing consumer committee to advise FSANZ on food regulation matters.

Streamlined processes will benefit the food industry and increase its international competitiveness, while providing consumers with greater choice and input to the system. The integrity of the regulatory system will be upheld.

In other measures

The 2006-07 Budget also continues funding for:
  • Strengthened therapeutic policy capacity
    The creation of the new trans-Tasman agency to regulate therapeutic goods will remove the policy advisory role previously performed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The Department of Health and Ageing will be provided with continued funding of $2.4 million over two years to continue provision of policy and regulatory work on therapeutic products issues, including broad public health policy.

  • Hospital Safety - continue funding
    The Commonwealth will provide $6.9 million in 2006-07 as its contribution to the Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care (now the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care) which is jointly funded with the states and territories, and a number of specific safety and quality improvement initiatives to reduce accidental harm caused to Australians within the public and private health systems.
Media contact: Kate Miranda 0417 425 227

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