Labo’s first major health policy announcement in this federal election year focuses on preventing illness and recognising the economic impact of poor health.
Kevin Rudd has released his plan to develop a national strategy to tackle chronic diseases caused by obesity, tobacco and alcohol – a plan that will be closely linked to Labor’s economic policy.
Labor says that while the failure to tackle chronic disease represents a cost, the benefits of better addressing chronic disease represent an economic opportunity.
The reasoning underpinning Labor’s plan is backed up by figures in a national survey released by Tony Abbott’s portfolio. This report shows heart conditions cause 317,000 admissions, respiratory problems 206,000 admissions and obstetrics 307,000 admissions to our public hospitals each year. Patients with these conditions occupy beds for a staggering total of 2,880,000 days.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost one in ten hospital admissions could have been avoided with better preventative care. An incredible 552,000 Australians were taken to hospital in just one year for conditions that could have been avoided.
Time to end the blame game
Only 1.7% of recurrent national health expenditure in 2004-2005 was spent on health promotion and prevention.
Labor’s health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon argues the Commonwealth’s failure to invest in preventative care leaves the states bearing the cost.
‘The major health agreements negotiated between the Commonwealth and the states deal only with hospitals and there are some disincentives to the states and Commonwealth actually investing money in prevention,’ she said.
‘We want both prevention and hospital care along with a number of other issues to be on the table for those negotiations, so every health dollar and every level of government is actually looking at how we can keep people well and not just treat them when they are sick.’
What Labor is proposing
The economic costs of chronic disease
Health professionals back Labor’s plan
NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said, ‘This approach is forward thinking and commendable. It will take pressure off our hospitals and centre health care in our communities where it is most effective.’
AMA President Dr Rosanna Capolingua said: ‘Overall this looks like a well-thought-out strategy to juggle the competing demands of a health budget and the community’s increasing health needs.’
Cancer Council chief executive Professor Ian Oliver said: ‘Prevention is always better than cure and the Opposition’s announcement heralds the kind of change in approach Australia needs to reduce the burden of cancer.’
The Australian General Practice Network, Public Health Association of Australia, Catholic Health Australia, Medicines Australia and the Mental Health Council of Australia also support Labor’s plan.
Nurses give Rudd’s aged care plan qualified support
Kevin Rudd has announced that a Labor government would spend $158 million over five years on alternative care for aged patients currently occupying public hospital beds.
The plan envisages 2,000 new ‘transition care beds’ for the aged who are in public hospitals waiting for a place in an aged care facility.
Labor has also pledged an extra $300 million in loans to build or expand residential and respite facilities in areas of need.
NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes welcomed the proposals but said the initiatives need to be complemented with appropriate numbers of extra nurses.
‘The number of qualified registered nurses and enrolled nurses employed in aged care has dropped by 21% since 1995, despite an increase in resident numbers,’ he said.
‘Increased bed numbers are a step forward but an improvement in quality care will require a corresponding increase in adequately qualified nursing staff.’
The NSWNA would also like to see Labor commit to improvements in the aged care workforce through:
We need to attract more nurses to aged care
Rosemary Chester, Executive Manager at Orana Nursing Home, says more resources and preventative strategies for aged care are welcome but attracting more nurses to the sector is vital.
‘Maintenance of health and well being for our aged population is important. Attracting and retaining registered and enrolled nurses to provide for aged people in the community and in residential facilities is an imperative deserving of improvement.’
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