‘Sickcare rather than healthcare’: Poor investment blamed for nations’ ailing healthcare system

Jun 15, 2023
Medical groups have hit out at the current state of the nation's health system, labelling it "sickcare rather than healthcare". Source: Getty Images.

Australia’s struggling healthcare system has been labelled a “sickcare” system by Australian Medical Association President Professor Steve Robson who is calling on changes to how healthcare is funded to improve patient outcomes.

In a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, June 14 hit out at Australia’s lack of investment in health, particularly in prevention and early intervention, claiming that it’s making health care more costly and challenging.

“Our current approach to investing in and managing health is focused very much on treating poor health outcomes not preventing them, which leads to a sickcare rather than healthcare system,” Robson said.

“We need to reframe our thinking and focus more on how the money we invest in healthcare can improve health outcomes and support economic growth because the evidence is clear — keeping people healthy reduces the costs and burden on our healthcare system and drives economic growth and productivity.

“And while we are wealthy nation, our spend on health as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product is modest when compared to OECD countries like the UK. We have room for investment.”

Robson later highlighted that the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic had showcased the potential for innovative approaches in addressing healthcare challenges.

“While COVID-19 laid bare some shortcomings in our health care system it also clearly demonstrated the opportunities for innovation in how we deliver health care and how remarkable things can be achieved when governments, healthcare professionals and the community work together,” he said.

“Investments in health to date have resulted in increasing life expectancy by more than 34 years, and that investment has delivered real economic outcomes. But past successes won’t tackle future problems.

“As the AMA analysis uncovered, we currently have hundreds of thousands of people waiting too long for elective surgery, people waiting too long in emergency departments and general practices struggling to survive.

“While it’s true that investment is needed to tackle these issues, we can also improve efficiency, improve access to care and the quality of care. We can return a dividend not just to the quality of Australian lives, but the quality and strength of our society.

“There is also real potential to reenvisage what the health portfolio could be with Treasury’s Measuring What Matters Statement ― Australia’s first national framework on wellbeing. The AMA welcomes this new approach that builds on traditional economic indicators to measure what really matters to Australians.”

While Robson calls for more investment to address the issues impacting early intervention and prevention of chronic diseases, the Federal Government is taking action to boost access and the quality of GP services across Australia.

In a bid to enhance medical services across the country, the government launched the Strengthening Medicare – General Practice (GP) Grants Program. The program is expected to provide all General Practices and eligible Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) with funding to improve access to medical care and enhance the quality of their services.

The GP Grants aim to provide extensive support to general practices and eligible ACCHOs all over Australia, enabling them to make significant investments in innovation, equipment, training, and minor capital works across any of the three investment streams listed below:

  1. Enhance digital health capability
  2. Upgrade infection prevention and control arrangements
  3. Maintain and/or achieve accreditation against the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) Standards for General Practices (5th edition).

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler recognised the tireless efforts of doctors throughout the pandemic while also acknowledging that “doctors deserve more than thanks, that’s why we’re giving them the resources to invest in their practices”.

“The $220 million investment will give a much-needed boost to general practices across the country,” Butler said.

“We understand the crucial importance of primary health care provided by GPs. This funding will help improve practices and make sure Australians can access safe, quality and affordable healthcare when and where they need it.”

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