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PHNs set to deliver better outcomes

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The recently released Invitation to Apply for Funding and program guidelines for Primary Health Networks is a material step forward for more integrated and streamlined health care.

Applicants wishing to become Primary Health Networks (PHNs) now have until 2pm (AEST) on 27 January 2015 to prepare and submit their applications.

Prior to the introduction of Medicare Locals, the AMA highlighted that if they were to be successful GPs would need to be involved in any high-level decision making.

Promisingly, it seems that the PHNs, unlike their predecessors, will actively work with GPs to identify and address gaps in local and regional health care services, and will provide support services to general practices.

This suggests the Government has paid close attention to the recommendations of the Horvath review, including that PHNs should reinforce general practice as the cornerstone of integrated primary health care.

PHNs will be governed by a skills-based board, which should not preclude GPs with the appropriate skills, and will be accountable for the PHNs performance.

The Board will be supported by a GP-led Clinical Council and Community Advisory Committee, both of which will report to the Board.

The Clinical Council will be expected to work in partnership with the Local Health Network, and will help with the development of local strategies to improve patient pathways through the health care system. It will streamline and improve the quality of patient care, as well as their health outcomes.

The Community Advisory Committee will ensure that all decisions, investments, and innovations made have the patient at the front of mind, are cost effective, locally relevant and aligned with local care experiences and expectations.

In many instances, the PHN guidelines are aligned with the AMA position on the principals for an effective primary health care organisation, and on what their priorities should be. For example, PHNs and the Clinical Councils will be expected to work co-operatively to ensure that patient care is not restricted or adversely effected where the patient flow crosses boundaries. This will be particular important in localities like Albury/Wodonga and Canberra/Queanbeyan.

The removal of a separate overarching body, such as Medical Locals had with Australian Medicare Local Alliance, has eradicated an unnecessary bureaucratic layer.

This, along with specific streams of funding, will ensure that money is not diverted from front-line services to support excessive administrative operations.  

The AMA has advised the Government that it would be concerned if the process for establishing PHNs provided an opportunity for PHNs to be managed by any entity with an inherent conflict of interest.

The PHN guidelines have gone some way to addressing this concern by advising that they should be structured to avoid, or actively and appropriately manage, conflicts of interest, particularly in relation to purchasing, commissioning and providing services.  

PHNs will have access to innovation funding from 2015, which will help to support new innovative models of primary health care. This will provide a significant opportunity to develop and trial different models of care to meet identified gaps in health services and to make health care pathways seamless for patients.

While many Medicare Locals didn’t seem to know what they were supposed to be doing, this should not be the case with PHNs. The guidelines pretty clearly outline what will be expected of them. The application process similarly is clearly explained.

As a GP, I look forward to seeing just how well PHNs deliver on their objectives.