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Critical attention given to doctors’ health at COAG

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Federal, State and Territory Health Ministers met in Brisbane this month at the COAG Health Council to discuss a range of national health issues.

During broad ranging discussions it was agreed to amend mandatory reporting provisions for treating health practitioners. Doctors should be able to seek treatment for health issues with confidentiality. They also acknowledged that protecting the public from harm is also important.

The resulting COAG communique said: “A nationally consistent approach to mandatory reporting provisions will provide confidence to health practitioner that they can feel able to seek treatment for their own health conditions anywhere in Australia.”

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon commended the decision, saying: “It has been acknowledged that there needs to be a change, that there’s a problem.

“Healthy doctors take better care of their patients.”

Other items discussed by Health Ministers included:

Family violence and primary care

The Health Ministers agreed to seek further advice from Primary Health Networks on existing family violence services, including Commonwealth, State and NGO service providers in their regions, with a view to developing an improved whole-of-system response to the complex needs of clients who disclose family violence.

This is supported by evidence given by Professor Kelsey Hegarty at the Victorian Royal Commission into Violence, when she said: “PHNs and other alliances across the health services sector have a significant role to play in supporting practitioner training about family violence.”

Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan

Health Ministers endorsed the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan 2017-2022 and its Implementation Plan.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said it stood out from previous plans with its focus on eating disorders and suicide prevention, keys areas that had been raised by lobbyists.

“The prevalence and the danger of (eating disorders) is still dramatically understated in Australia,” he said.

“The reality is that this is a silent killer, particularly women can be caught up for years, so there is a mutual determination to make progress.”

The plan will also focus on improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention, reducing stigma and discrimination, and better coordinating treatment and support programs.

The National Psychosocial Supports Program

The 2017-18 Budget allowed for the establishment of a National Psychosocial Supports Program that aims to provide flexible, targeted services to people with severe mental illness resulting in psychosocial disability who are not eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The Health Ministers agreed to establish a time-limited working group to progress a National Psychosocial Supports Program to reduce the community mental health service gap, improve mental health outcomes and reduce the inequity in service availability. 

National Digital Health Strategy and Australian Digital Health Agency Forward Work Plan 2018–2022

The COAG Health Council gave the green light to the National Digital Health Strategy. Currently, 5 million Australians have a My Health record – this strategy aims, among other things, to expand this non-compulsory offer to all Australians by 2018.

Expanding the public reporting of patient safety and quality measures

Ministers agreed that the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) would undertake work with other interested jurisdictions to identify options in relation to aligning public reporting standards of quality healthcare and patient safety across public and private hospitals nationally.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last month highlighted the gaps in reporting, and in some areas, the lack of data altogether, saying: “There is no routinely available information on some aspects of quality, such as the continuity and responsiveness of hospital services.”

Health Ministers at the COAG meeting also considered the development of the next iteration of the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013–2023; agreed to explore a National Human Biomonitoring Program by undertaking a feasibility assessment; agreed to proceed to Strengthen penalties and prohibition orders under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law; and sought clarification of roles, responsibilities and relationships for national bodies established under the National Health Reform Agreement.