The pandemic has shown that radical changes can be made to the health system, and they can be made quickly. Take telehealth: previously on track to be implemented over 10 years, it was introduced overnight thanks to COVID-19.
“These things were impossible, and then all of a sudden, you flick a switch, and they’re not impossible,” the president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Omar Khorshid, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said health must remain in the spotlight.Credit:Tony McDonough
Healthcare has been front and centre since the pandemic began, and Dr Khorshid says it is critical that health remains in the spotlight once the danger passes.
Dr Khorshid will on Wednesday launch the association’s blueprint for fixing Australia’s fractured health system in a speech to the National Press Club amid fears the health lessons of the pandemic risk being forgotten.
“We want to grab this before we lose it, this opportunity to reform our health system,” he said. “We need to be acting now to do what we can to make the system more sustainable.”
The association’s Vision For Australia’s Health outlines the chronic issues within Australia’s health system, and points out that Australia has historically under-invested in health.
Prior to the pandemic, Australian health spending was 9.3 per cent of GDP, less than other comparable countries and almost half the spend of the US.
Increased funding for hospitals, widened use of telehealth across primary and hospital care and improved focus on preventative health are some of the areas the association would like to see improve.
“We need to spend the money on the public hospital system,” Dr Khorshid said. “That sector, unfortunately, needs a new funding formula that shares the cost of running it better between federal and state governments, and allows the sector the growing capacity to meet the needs of the community.”
Private health insurance must also be recalibrated, providing incentives for younger people to take up policies and ensuring patients retain the right to choose their care.
“We need our system to become sustainable without running down this path towards US-style managed care,” Dr Khorshid said.
The president of the most powerful doctors’s group also said it was vital to take the politics out of healthcare. Political parties with health reform agendas had failed to win elections in the past, but Dr Khorshid said he was hopeful the current climate was different.
“We’ve all learned a lot from the pace of some of the changes that we’ve all had to make, to our lives during the pandemic,” he said. “This may be naive, but we’re going to give it a go – reform, that is actually backed by our whole health sector, so it doesn’t become a political football.”
The AMA plans to convene a summit including other peak medical bodies including health insurers next year to discuss health system reform. Some of those conversations, involving groups the AMA has traditionally not had great relationships with, have already begun.
“It will be difficult, I acknowledge that, and there’s a lot of vested interests,” Dr Khorshid said. “Doctors can’t run a health system alone. We can only do it by working with other health professions, with hospitals with insurers with the community sector. We can only do it by working together.”
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