What Primary Health Networks are

Primary Health Networks (PHNs) are independent organisations that we fund to coordinate primary health care in their region. PHNs assess the needs of their community and commission health services so that people in their region can get coordinated health care where and when they need it.

About PHNs

Primary Health Networks (PHNs) are independent organisations that we fund to manage health regions. A board oversees their work, and clinical councils and community advisory committees provide advice.

Australia has 31 PHN regions which closely align with the state and territory local hospital networks.

PHNs have the 2 key goals of:

  • improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health services for people, particularly those at risk of poor health outcomes
  • improving the coordination of health services, and increasing access and quality support for people.

To achieve these goals, PHNs:

  • assess the health needs of their region using a people-centred approach
  • commission health services to meet the prioritised health needs of the people in their region
  • work closely with providers to build health workforce capacity and ensure they deliver high-quality care
  • connect health services for people to encourage better use of health resources and avoid duplication.

Because PHNs tailor health services to the needs of the community and take their own approach to connecting services, each region has a different model. But they are all guided by the national priorities set by the Australian Government.

We fund PHNs through a grant process. Their funding is dependent on performance, which we assess against national and local indicators set out in the performance framework.

Read about how we support PHNs to help improve health services in their region.

Who PHNs work with

PHNs have structures that ensure various stakeholders are involved in decision making. This includes:

  • skills-based boards – made up of experts from various fields with health and corporate expertise
  • GP-led clinical councils – made up of doctors, nurses, allied and community health staff, Indigenous health workers, specialists and hospital management staff
  • community advisory committees – made up of consumers and carers who have experience with and insights into the health system.

This ensures that PHNs’ decisions, investments and innovations:

  • are influenced by community representatives
  • align with local care needs and expectations
  • better integrate local health care systems.

PHNs work closely with:

  • local hospital networks or equivalent
  • public and private hospitals
  • Aboriginal Medical Services
  • nurses
  • allied health providers
  • health training coordinators
  • state and territory government health services
  • aged care providers
  • private health insurers
  • other PHNs to ensure people can get care across different regions without negative impacts.

This helps to:

  • reduce duplication of effort and resources
  • better coordinate health services, regardless of funding source
  • reduce pressure on hospitals by helping people navigate the primary health care system
  • support secure sharing of consumers information.

Why PHNs are important

Consumers – especially those with complex conditions – often access different types of health services.

But these might not be available close to home. They might also not connect with each other to share information about the person’s health history or health needs.

This can compromise the quality of care for people, increase the load on hospitals and increase medication errors.

A strong primary health care system:

  • helps people avoid going into hospital when they don’t need to
  • improves the health of our population
  • increases equal access to health care.

PHNs act as local agents of change in Australia’s health system.

They gain a strong understanding of people’s health needs in their region, and commission health services to meet those needs, minimising gaps or duplication.

They work to ensure health services connect with each other to share information which:

  • gives health professionals a clearer picture of the person’s health and treatment needs
  • supports people to access the health care they need where and when they need it.

Read more about what PHNs do.

Last updated: 
2 September 2021

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