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AMA talks up social determinants

Earlier this month, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton joined other health and social sector leaders at a Forum to discuss and promote a greater government and community focus on the social determinants of health.

Dr Hambleton explained the link between doctors, medicine and the social determinants.

“It is simple,” Dr Hambleton said.

“Doctors don’t just treat people who are sick or injured or advise people how to stay healthy.  If people are ill, we want to know what made them ill.

“What are the factors that contributed to their sickness or poor health?  How can we address these problems?

“The social determinants are the social and environmental conditions in which people live and work every day of their lives.  These conditions affect our lives in many ways, including our health.

“The physical environment affects our health – air quality, temperature, the weather, the vegetation, and the water, among other things.

“Our housing affects our health.  For many people it is a lack of housing, or the poor quality of housing.

“Employment affects our health.  Being out of work, especially for long periods, can have a serious impact on both physical and mental health of a person, and the people around them.

“Education is a major factor in maintaining good health.  Knowledge and health literacy and a hunger for learning – all-important factors in staying healthy.

“This is why the social determinants are so important to doctors.”

Dr Hambleton said that, while medical doctors may not be experts or authorities on these social factors, and how to fix them, they see them and confront them daily.

“We can see what these factors do to the health of our patients and we can see the effect they may have on their families,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The social and economic costs of inaction on these social determinants are compelling.

“In Australia – as elsewhere – health expenditure is growing at a faster rate than gross domestic product.

“The context of an ageing population, burgeoning chronic disease burden, and rising health care costs pose fundamental challenges to our health system and the sustainability of health care expenditure.

“If Australia is to meet these challenges, we need to rethink our approach to health, and redesign our policies and systems to tackle the root causes of ill health.

“Tackling the social determinants of health is a public policy imperative.  The AMA has been doing its bit, and we will continue to do so.

“We have a strong policy on climate change and health.  We have made submissions to inquiries on air quality.  We have concerns about possible health effects from coal seam gas mining.

“We support government action to stop people smoking – plain packaging and higher tobacco excise are good policies.

“We stand against the irresponsible use of alcohol, and have called for tighter controls on the marketing of alcohol to young people.

“We have policy on the health of people in detention, including in prison.  We have called for an independent panel to monitor the health of asylum seekers.

“And we have a long and proud history of working to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes.

“Health is about much more than hospitals and medical practices.  It is also about the promotion of wellness.

“Just as the AMA is a champion in public health, we aspire to be a champion on the social determinants of health.”

The full text of Dr Hambleton’s speech to the Forum is at media/ama-president-dr-steve-hambleton-social-determinants-health-alliance-public-forum-13-august

John Flannery

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