Online version of the 2012-13 Department of Health and Ageing Annual Report

Secretary's Review

Page last updated: 29 October 2013

The Image is of Professor Jane Halton, PSM Secretary Department of Health and Ageing.

Australia’s health system is world class, supporting universal and affordable access to high quality medical, pharmaceutical and hospital services, while helping people to stay healthy through health promotion and disease prevention activities.

Compared to similar countries, Australia has an efficient health system. The most recent Global Burden of Disease Study found that Australia achieves strong health outcomes with lower than average spending on health per capita.1

Health policy must take into consideration the effects of an ageing population on demand for health care, increasing risks to the overall health of Australians through poor lifestyle choices and the impact of advancing technology and new drugs. We work with government to develop and implement evidence-based health priorities that are effective and efficient. Australia’s health system faces significant challenges from

illness, poor health behaviours and health outcome disparities. About one-third of Australia’s burden of disease is due to ‘lifestyle’ health risks such as smoking, obesity, dietary risks, physical inactivity, and alcohol misuse. Significant gains have been made with lower smoking rates across the population. Obesity is being tackled through work to develop dietary guidelines and a front of pack labelling system to provide consumers with the information they need to make healthy eating choices.

We are making a difference. Medicare provides all Australians with free treatment as a public patient in public hospitals. Over 80% of GP services are bulk billed at no cost to the patient. Medicare also provides subsidised access to specialists, optometrical services and certain allied health services.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) allows Australians to access medications at affordable prices. The PBS subsidises around 750 medicines available in more than 1,970 forms.

Australia’s comprehensive immunisation program protects people against harmful diseases. Compared to most other countries, Australia provides a greater range of vaccines free to its citizens.

There have been some improvements between 1998 and 2011, with overall Indigenous mortality rates declining by 12% and Indigenous child mortality rates declining by 29%. The health of Australians in rural areas is also generally poorer than that of people who live in major cities; however, this gap between health outcomes is closing.

In order to ensure that we maintain and continue to improve on health outcomes, we are committed to continuous improvement in all that we do. The Department has been implementing change through the DoHA National Alignment (DNA) to ensure we are in the best position to implement and manage the government’s key health priorities and programs. DNA will help the Department ensure it remains responsive to pressures, while at the same time increasing productivity through simplifying administration and process.

Work has already been undertaken by the Department to address the administrative burden on government funded not-for-profit organisations. The Department has introduced more streamlined administration and business practices, including the implementation of single header, multi-year funding agreements and improved contract management tools and processes. These improvements better able the Department to support these organisations in the delivery of funded services and provide the Department with an increase in health outcomes in return for the same level of investment, through a more strategic approach to health service delivery.

This work is having an immediate benefit. The Department’s Queensland State Office is currently trialling a new initiative with the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) Queensland which streamlines funding from multiple departmental contracts into a single agreement and schedule. It also replaces the multiple departmental contract managers the RFDS had to deal with, with a single relationship manager. By cutting red tape and ending duplication, considerable efficiencies are being achieved by both the Department and the RFDS. As a result, the RFDS is able to spend more time delivering their services to rural and remote communities and less time on paper work.

Initiatives under the DNA will enable the Department to save time and money, and allow us to do our jobs better on behalf of the Australian community.

Throughout 2013-14, the Department will continue to improve the way we go about our business – within the organisation, with government, our partners and stakeholders, at home and abroad, and for the long-term benefit of the Australian community.

I would like to acknowledge the active contribution the Department’s staff have made in supporting various charities and community events throughout the year. I am particularly proud of the Department’s long-standing support of Hartley Lifecare, with the annual Hartley Lifecare Cycle Challenge raising funds to support its work. Hartley Lifecare is a Canberra-based organisation that provides accommodation support and respite care for children, adults and their families with physical and complex disabilities.

Finally, as part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations, public servants have teamed up to build Boundless Canberra, which will be Australia’s premier all-abilities playground. The playground will cater for children and adults who have vision, hearing and mobility impairments, as well as for people with disorders such as autism.

The image is of Professor Jane Halton’s signature at the end of the Secretary’s Review.

Professor Jane Halton PSM Secretary
October 2013