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Medicare Local–Local Health Network partnerships in South Australia: lessons for Primary Health Networks

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Medicare Locals (MLs) were one of the shortest-lived features of the Australian health care landscape, existing for just 4 years. In 2011, the federal government established 61 MLs. The major reasons for their establishment were to strengthen the multidisciplinary aspects of primary health care (PHC) and to improve population health planning — features identified as important in recent proposals for Australian health reform.1 Contractual requirements for MLs included population health planning; needs assessments; and working with general practices, other health providers, and state and territory health networks. A 2014 review of MLs criticised their performance, noting that they “failed to appropriately involve and engage GPs” and that there was “lack of clarity in what many Medicare Locals are trying to achieve” and “variability in both the scope and delivery of activities”.2 The government responded by replacing MLs with a smaller number of Primary Health Networks (PHNs) that commenced operating in July 2015.

Inter-organisational networks are increasingly recognised in the literature as a useful approach for complex problems, and for sharing knowledge and resources.3,4 Such networks require leadership, careful planning, time and resources, and their…