NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : Do @GregHuntMP and @KenWyattMP have clear priorities and direction to save health ?

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With parliament resuming tomorrow we take a look at what the new Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Ken Wyatt AM Minister for Indigenous Health  are building – A national, long-term health plan . Mr Hunt said he had discussed with the Prime Minister the need for a long-term health strategy, across four key areas, to take the health system and “help lift it and build it to be the best in the world”.

(1) Rock-solid commitment to support for Medicare and universal healthcare with funding growing every year.

(2) A deep, rock-solid commitment to our hospital system, both public and private that work together, with funding growing every year.

(3) The third pillar being our deep and my personal, passionate commitment to mental health and preventive health and support for indigenous health, something so profound to so many Australians.

(4) Medical research where we bring together the work of the NHMRC, the Biomedical Translation Fund, and the Medical Research Future Fund – three essential elements.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP Minister of Health  From doorstop interview 4 February : Launch of the Turnbull Government’s $125 million NHMRC funding into medical research : Download interview-with-greg-hunt

 ” Also on the minds of many in the sector is the Nous review of the roles and functions of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the state/territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health peak bodies (more background about this review is here).

In our interview, Wyatt said he would be guided by the findings of the Nous review, and that he would be “looking for a common position that strengthens the role of NACCHO and all the affiliates”.

“In times of uncertainty, it’s important that we create certainty,” he said.

Shortly after Ken Wyatt AM was sworn in as Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health  he made time for an interview in his Canberra office with Croakey contributors Summer May Finlay (former Policy Officer at NACCHO ) and Dr Megan Williams : see Article 2 below

Greg Hunt’s priority: clear direction to save health

The Turnbull government will move to reclaim the health policy debate after new minister Greg Hunt identified the need for a long-term strategy to strengthen Medicare, support hospitals, facil­itate world-class medical research and encourage people to take ­better care.

As reported by The Australian

After a first term dominated by budget cuts and reviews, the Coalitio­n was savaged at the polls, not only because of Labor’s contentious “Save Medicare’’ campaign but also a lack of overarching policy direction.

An expenses scandal then prompted the resignation of Sussa­n Ley as health minister and gave Malcolm Turnbull the opportunity to reset relations with the sector under Mr Hunt, the adept former minister for industry, innov­ation and science and, before that, environment.

Three weeks into his new role, Mr Hunt told The Weekend Australian the government was “rock solid” in its support for Medicare but it was too early for him to ­comment on the future of the ­indexation freeze.

He said Australia’s health system, while strong, needed clearer direction to cope with an ageing population, lifestyle diseases and the threat of pandemics and antimicrobial resistance.

“Medicare, let’s be honest, started under Labor, but you’ve also got the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme that came in under Menzies and private health insur­ance which came in under Menzies, and was extended and really saved by John Howard and Michael­ Wooldridge,” Mr Hunt said. “We are a part, are credited with two of the three pillars of the federal health system, and we’re committed to all of them. I’m not sure Labor is committed to private health.”

While generally guarded on issues­ related to funding, Mr Hunt said he had discussed with the Prime Minister the need for a long-term health strategy, across four key areas, to take the health system and “help lift it and build it to be the best in the world”.

Stakeholder groups are being consulted on Mr Hunt’s plan to strengthen Medicare and universal access, support hospitals under Australia’s public-private hybrid, prioritise preventive health (espec­ial­ly in relation to mental health) and boost medical research­.

Mr Hunt suggested that he had underestimated the challenge of mental illness, even though his mother had bipolar disease and the last time he visited her was in a mental hospital.

“It’s very real for me, very real, and when I raised this publicly, and hadn’t really talked about it like most Aussie males, I’ve never had such a widespread response of people wanting to talk to me on the streets of my own electorate and elsewhere in Australia,” he said.

“The degree of the problem I imagined I understood but in fact it’s deeper and broader than I ever understood.”

With mental health and preventive health combined, the Prime Minister this week foreshadowed “a new focus on preventive health (that) will give people the right tools and information to live active and healthy lives”.

Mr Hunt said that Melbourne, and to a lesser extent Sydney, were among the world’s top three biomedical hubs and he wanted Australia­ to become the “world leader in genomics and precision medicine”.

Following the federal government’s pre-election public hospital funding injection, Mr Hunt said that he was confident it could come up with a long-term agreement with the states by the end of next year.

This would probably precede the next election, although Mr Hunt said it was “not a political goal but a policy goal”.

One of his more immediate tasks will be to approve health- insurance­ premium increases from April 1. Mr Hunt said he wanted to “make sure we get value for money” and was committed to ongoing reform.

croakeysmall

Article 2

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Shortly after Ken Wyatt AM was sworn in as Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health last week, he made time for an interview in his Canberra office with Croakey contributors Summer May Finlay and Dr Megan Williams.

The insights, including a commitment to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ access to primary healthcare, are likely to be of interest to many, particularly given funding uncertainty and cuts that have undermined the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and services in recent years.

  •  Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman, public health practitioner and PhD scholar at the University of South Australia.
  • Dr Megan Williams, who is a descendent of the Wiradjuri people of central NSW and also has English and Irish heritage, is a Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University.

How to subscribe to Croakey ?

Summer May Finlay and Megan Williams write:

Meeting with Minister Wyatt within hours of his being sworn in as a Minister provided the opportunity for questions about the direction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy.

Given Wyatt is the first Aboriginal person to serve on the frontbench in the House of Representatives, and because so much uncertainty and shrinkage has occurred in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service funding under the Coalition Government whom he serves, he will no doubt face enormous pressure from diverse Aboriginal communities and organisations.

We met particularly to ask about the role the health portfolio will take to address the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, given that justice is a determinant of health. We had read Wyatt’s statements as Assistant Minister about the need to address such determinants.

Having previously provided him with a copy of our #JustJustice book, which contains dozens of examples of ‘what works’ as determined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,we were keen to hear what he would take forward.

As Member for Hasluck in Western Australia for the Liberal Party of Australia and a long-term public servant, Wyatt is not new to Parliament nor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy and leadership, and indeed has previously had carriage of Indigenous Health as an Assistant Health Minister.

He can discuss with authority the complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health status, and the contributing individual and structural factors. His extensive career working in Aboriginal affairs in numerous capacities around Australia, and many of his positions in and outside the health sector obviously contribute.

Broad experience

In terms of understanding determinants of health, Minister Wyatt initially trained as a primary school teacher and taught for a number of years before moving into public administration. He was also involved in health education and developed health curriculum.

While in the education system he was offered the opportunity to work for the WA Health Department’s Aboriginal health policy unit with only two staff – himself and a non-Indigenous doctor. He said the move was a “great transition to another agency and a different experience”, and that “it was a period of new learning and fighting different battles”.

This was at the time the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (NAHS) was launched – the first serious attempt to reduce the health inequity between Aboriginal people and other Australians.

While it remains a key guiding document informing subsequent policies, Wyatt witnessed first-hand the way some state-based Ministers rushed the endorsement of the policy, and the 1994 evaluation findings that it was never fully implemented.

After four years in WA Health, Wyatt again worked in the education sector, before shifting across to become the Director of Aboriginal Affairs in NSW Health. In preparation for this, Wyatt remembered consulting with NSW Aboriginal Elders and service providers. During his five-year directorship, he worked closely with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health services (ACCHOs).

Reflecting on this time, Wyatt saw how it made sense for governments to fund ACCHOs directly to deliver services, because of their success, and to avoid duplication. Wyatt had close contact with Maari Ma Health in particular, an Aboriginal Medical Service providing health services for Aboriginal people in their area, contracted by NSW Health.

Wyatt recalled that formal assessment of Maari Ma’s service outcomes showed “results were far better than what we had ever achieved as a health department”. This was a clear example of the strength of ACCHOs, “showing that a local Aboriginal organisation with the local communities, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, could deliver a better service than what NSW [government] were.”

With every new Minster comes the likelihood of change; Wyatt brings more experience to the federal leadership position for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health than any of his predecessors or peers.

Minister Wyatt also comes to the portfolio after a period of turbulence in Indigenous health and Indigenous affairs more broadly.

The Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) restructured and cut funding, causing “uncertainty, stress and anxiety”, according to submissions to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee. 

The IAS also forced a competitiveness between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services never before encountered, and contributed significantly to stress on the ACCHO sector, which was already under pressure and inadequately funded to meet demand, in a policy environment that has pushed the “mainstreaming” of Indigenous health services.

The sector now also faces further uncertainty given that the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review, the Medicare rebate freeze, and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Review all have implications for the work of ACCHOs.

Also on the minds of many in the sector is the Nous review of the roles and functions of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the state/territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health peak bodies (more background about this review is here).

In our interview, Wyatt said he would be guided by the findings of the Nous review, and that he would be “looking for a common position that strengthens the role of NACCHO and all the affiliates”.

“In times of uncertainty, it’s important that we create certainty,” he said.

Addressing social and cultural determinants of health

In his role as Minister for Indigenous Health, Wyatt wants to see improved primary health care access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This includes through ACCHOs and mainstream services.

In terms of mainstream health care access, Wyatt cited the challenges of geographical diversity, institutional racism and the need to address social and cultural determinants of health.

These challenges have long been poorly met by mainstream health services, yet better addressed by ACCHOs.

To address institutional racism and champion work on social and cultural determinants of health, a cross-portfolio working group endorsed by a cabinet sub-committee has been established.

Wyatt acknowledges that “social and cultural determinants of health underpin everything that we do”, sending a message of hope for achieving core components of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan Implementation Plan, launched in 2015.

We have learnt from the limitations of NAHS implementation that mechanisms of accountability are crucial.

The role of the new Social and Cultural Working Group is unclear, but at the very least is intersectoral, consisting of the Departments of Health and Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, including:

  • Richard Weston from the National Health Leadership Forum and the Healing Foundation, as Co-Chair
  • Pat Turner from NACCHO
  • Donna Ah Chee, Julie Tongs and Mark Wenitong with expertise across early childhood, comprehensive primary health care, acute care and justice, among other issues.

Moving forward?

Minister Wyatt clearly has some significant challenges ahead. Given his commitment to action on the social and cultural determinants of health, he will have to forge effective ways of working across sectoral and jurisdictional boundaries.

While governments have a long history of poor accountability in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, the solutions are well identified about how to deliver and evaluate effective and efficient care.

Countless calls for national leadership have been made and, now that we have an experienced, respected and respectful Aboriginal Minister at the helm, many will be hoping that he can achieve the level of change needed, including a strengthening of ACCHOs in funding, certainty and influence over mainstream models of care, and effective outcomes from the new social and cultural unit.

 

NACCHO Promotion

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NACCHO has announced the publishing date for the 9 th edition of Australia’s first national health Aboriginal newspaper, the NACCHO Health News .

Publish date 6 April 2017

Working with Aboriginal community controlled and award-winning national newspaper the Koori Mail, NACCHO aims to bring relevant advertising and information on health services, policy and programs to key industry staff, decision makers and stakeholders at the grassroots level.

And who writes for and reads the NACCHO Newspaper ?

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While NACCHO’s websites ,social media and annual report have been valued sources of information for national and local Aboriginal health care issues for many years, the launch of NACCHO Health News creates a fresh, vitalised platform that will inevitably reach your targeted audiences beyond the boardrooms.

NACCHO will leverage the brand, coverage and award-winning production skills of the Koori Mail to produce a 24 page three times a year, to be distributed as a ‘lift-out’ in the 14,000 Koori Mail circulation, as well as an extra 1,500 copies to be sent directly to NACCHO member organisations across Australia.

Our audited readership (Audit Bureau of Circulations) is 100,000 readers

For more details rate card

Contact : Colin Cowell Editor

Mobile : 0401 331 251

Email  : nacchonews@naccho.org.au

 

 

 

 

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