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Nation gets mixed health report card

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AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has urged an end to the Federal-State blame game over medical funding to ensure further improvements in the nation’s health.

Dr Hambleton said better cooperation between the Commonwealth and the states and territories was needed if the country was to build on improvements in life expectancy, preventable hospitalisations and Indigenous health, including by cutting elective surgery waiting times and tackling obesity.

In his five-year report card on national reform, Council of Australian Government Reform Council chair John Brumby said there was a lot that the country was getting right.

“Australians are living longer (we still have one of the highest life expectancies in the world), fewer people are dying from circulatory disease, fewer people are smoking, there are less potentially preventable hospitalisations and our emergency wards are seeing more people in a timely manner,” Mr Brumby said, adding that progress was being made in closing the gap between Indigenous child mortality rates and those of the rest of the community.

But the former Victorian Premier also identified areas of concern, including increasing rates of obesity and longer waiting times for elective surgery.

He added that the overall Indigenous mortality rate had barely improved since 2008, and the current rate of improvement was “nowhere near enough to close the gap by 2031”.

Dr Hambleton welcomed Mr Brumby’s report as a reminder of what had been achieved, and what still needed to be done.

He said the COAG report identified several long term health goals that needed to be tracked.

“It’s very good that our life expectancy is continuing to go up, it’s also very good that our smoking rates are coming down. We’re seeing that preventable hospitalisations are down, that’s a good thing.

“We haven’t seen, though, the decrease in the waiting times for elective surgery that we’d like to see come out from better cooperation from State and Federal [governments], and we are disturbed to see that obesity rates have gone up, that is a problem.

“So, there’s more work to be done. It’s good that we’re measuring these things, and we’ve made some improvements. But there’s still some areas that we can do better.”

Dr Hambleton said the ageing population was increasing the pressure on the nation’s hospitals, and funding for beds had not kept pace with the increase in demand.

“So, as well as doing better with what we’ve got, we actually still need that infrastructure, we still need those beds to treat our public and our population,” he said.

And he called for a “multi-factorial approach” to tackle the nation’s increasing incidence of obesity, including everything from the way cities, suburbs and towns were designed to food labelling and educating children about good nutrition.

“We’ve got to make sure that we have a population that embraces exercise, and recognises that one hour of exercise every day is really important to maintain our health,” Dr Hambleton said. “The message is not getting through. This is not just a health message. Every portfolio needs to think about this so we can all work together to turn this around.”

Adrian Rollins