A task too urgent for further delay

small wooden blocks arranged to spell reform

A task too urgent for further delay

small wooden blocks arranged to spell reform

Last week the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce tabled its recommendations to government.

The taskforce was established to provide a vision for the primary care system and to recommend top-priority improvements to address the problems within it.

And it’s not a moment too soon.

Most of us acknowledge that the current system is on the precipice and that the informal title of ‘world’s best health system’ feels less genuine by the day.

Primary care is plagued by workforce shortages and burnout, lack of coordination, and poor access and affordability.

The list goes on.

One can’t help feeling that a fairly radical change is required to fix it.

So does the taskforce’s report deliver? Not really.

There is not much within it to disagree with, the key exception being that it predictably holds fast to the dogma that a GP-centric model is the only one worth considering.

If reform is on the agenda, then the report that leads to it should be more open-minded on such matters and innovative in its solutions.

That said, there are many things that the report gets right.

It advocates for better use of Australia’s allied health workforce and better team coordination.

It acknowledges issues of healthcare affordability and access, particularly in rural and remote settings and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

It talks about blended funding models as a more appropriate way of funding care for complex and chronic conditions.

All sensible reflections and sound directions for government to explore.

But is a taskforce really a taskforce if its main output is not task-oriented?

My main criticism of this report is that it lacks specificity and tangibility.

It adds only incremental ‘how to’ detail to not-so- new solutions and one gets the sense that we’ve mostly seen and heard it all before (as recently as last year with the 10-year Primary Health Care Plan under the previous Minister for Health, Greg Hunt).

How much more reflecting do we need to do before decision-makers commit to a reform agenda that is substantial enough to reverse the system crisis?

What we need with some urgency now is a concrete plan with specific, measurable actions.

Statements like ‘We need to enable all health professionals to work to their full scope of practice’ need to be replaced with ‘Patients should be entitled to the same Medicare rebate for physiotherapy-referred imaging as GP-referred imaging’.

Instead of ‘Strengthen funding for more affordable care’, we need to hear ‘Introduce Medicare-funded access to first contact physiotherapy for musculoskeletal conditions beyond the Enhanced Primary Care program’.

So while there is little to object to in the report, there is not enough in it to be enthusiastic about.

Since the taskforce was chaired by Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler, we can assume these are solid statements of intent that the government plans to make good on.

But the government will likely need to commission yet another group to sift through the report and translate it into an action plan, to develop the ‘how’ response to the ‘what’, and the possibilities here are endless.

It could take another 12 months, but it must not.

I’m proud of the work the APA has done over the past three years to contribute sensible, actionable solutions to the primary care conversation.

We challenge the status quo with constructive ideas.

Our consistent and relentless advocacy is bearing fruit, slowly but surely, and it is pleasing to see some of our own words and recommendations being referenced by Minister Butler.

If you aren’t familiar with what we have done to date, please tune in to National President Scott Willis’s regular advocacy updates and have a read of our Future of Physiotherapy in Australia: a 10-year vision policy white paper and recent Budget submission.

We strongly urge the government to commit to actions that lead to true reform, not in 12 months, but now.

Australians deserve a gold-standard health system and this is the only way we will get it back.


© Copyright 2024 by Australian Physiotherapy Association. All rights reserved.