Health Secretary outlines the challenges of health reform to Committee for Economic Development of Australia

The broad reform agenda that the Australian Government is embarking on in health is being enthusiastically embraced by the Federal Department of Health as it moves to better deliver strategic policy advice and action.

Page last updated: 11 March 2016

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11 March 2016

The broad reform agenda that the Australian Government is embarking on in health is being enthusiastically embraced by the Federal Department of Health as it moves to better deliver strategic policy advice and action, the Secretary of the Department, Martin Bowles, told health sector leaders at a conference in Brisbane today.

Speaking at a meeting of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Mr Bowles said modernising Australia’s health system to meet the needs and expectations of consumers is a big challenge for the Health bureaucracy but he was confident great changes can be achieved by innovative, data-driven, evidence based policy making.

“In transforming Australia’s health and ageing system we are going through an exciting time of change, of innovation and opportunity, but the pressures are ever present and if not managed properly could overwhelm us,” Mr Bowles said.

“It is for this reason that I have made widespread structural changes within the Department of Health so our people can participate effectively in this unique opportunity for change.”

Mr Bowles said managing an ageing population, an epidemic of chronic disease, outmoded primary care financing arrangements, a disconnected health system and the need to embrace digital technology put an enormous pressure on health resources.

“This is why the Australian Government has a string of parallel and complementary health reforms currently underway and implementing new strategies from these reviews requires new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things and we need to do things better and innovate.

“Health Department officers are supporting these expert reviews which are looking at a range of health programs which affect the daily lives of all Australians,” Mr Bowles said.

“These include a review of our Medical Benefits Schedule which contains items and procedures listed on the MBS, some that are long past their use by date with others simply illogical.

“In addition we have been managing a review into the way primary health care is provided in Australia. This is a landmark review and could result in a whole new way of funding and delivering primary health care, particularly for people with chronic and complex conditions and those living with mental health issues.

“We are having a national discussion on Private Health Insurance, an issue that the general public has engaged with in their thousands responding to an on-line survey.

“We are also serious about electronic health records which is the way forward to ensure better health care for all Australians that will no doubt save lives and eliminate a lot of waste in the health system.”

Mr Bowles said the return of aged care to the Health Department will assist in the big challenge now that the Australian population is living so much longer and older. People need the best health care options available to them to live long and happy lives.

“Aged care is back where I believe it belongs and we have some excellent reforms coming on line to improve the health and wellbeing of older Australians,” he said.

“However, one of my most pressing concerns is that we take advantage of better data collection and reporting to give us the evidence of what is required, what is working and what isn’t,” Mr Bowles said.

“We need to put data, analytics, evaluation and research at the centre of health care to make the system work smarter and more effectively.”

Mr Bowles said he saw the Federal Department of Health as a prime leader in the health reform agenda and to this end he has put stronger emphasis on the department’s relationships with stakeholders, maximising linkages and building effective, ongoing partnerships including with colleagues in the states and territories.

“We need to have the courage to try new and innovative ways of doing things and I am confident that every other stakeholder in the health arena sees the same opportunities for reform and are keen to play their part,” Mr Bowles said.

Media contact: Kay McNiece, 0412 132 585

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