Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan was released in August 2019. Minister for Health, Greg Hunt launched the Plan with a speech at the National Press Club.
The Plan sets out five areas of focus. Three are directed at system improvement: 1) Medicare and the PBS; 2) hospitals; and 3) the Medical Research Future Fund.
The remaining two concentrate on population, with one having a combined focus on mental health and preventative health strategies and the other detailing the government’s approach to aging well and aged care.
The Plan draws together a number of initiatives already in the public sphere, as well as re-aligning some previously announced budget allocations.
Across the Plan, there are a number of intersections with priorities for Vision 2020 Australia and our members. In particular, prevention and early intervention, research priorities, older Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people all feature in the Plan.
Prevention and early intervention
Vision 2020 Australia’s Prevention and Early Intervention Committee is currently exploring ways to embed early detection of eye disease into primary health care. The Plan commits to supporting the role of nurses in primary health care, which creates a potential opportunity for the eye health and vision care sector to promote available training amongst practice nurses.
The Plan pledges to improve quality standards and efficiency in hospitals. Many of Vision 2020 Australia’s members are engaged in advocating for better access to public cataract surgery, though reduced waiting lists and enhanced efficiencies in access to specialists. This commitment provides a potential lever to support this area of advocacy.
The Plan also commits to developing and implementing a National Preventive Health Strategy which includes a focus on chronic conditions, including diabetes. The Plan acknowledges chronic disease as the leading cause of ill health and death in Australia, and notes diabetes as one of the most common. With a renewed focus on chronic disease, we have an opportunity to keep diabetic retinopathy on the prevention agenda, further to the work under way with KeepSight.
The Plan promises ongoing support of the Medical Research Future Fund. MRFF funded research is already underway to better predict the occurrence of inherited eye disease and improve pathways for patients following diagnoses. It is welcome that this will continue and the sector has an ongoing opportunity to pursue research opportunities through the MRFF.
Additionally, the MRFF funded Indigenous Health Futures Project, has a focus on ending avoidable blindness.
Aging Well and Aged Care also feature in the Plan, including supporting people to remain independent as long as possible, extending options for aged care and increasing packages available to support people to stay in their home. This aligns with the work of Vision 2020 Australia’s Independence and Participation Committee, that has long advocated for better support for people to remain safely at home through access to re-ablement supports and services to minimise co-morbidities associated with blindness and vision loss.
With increased attention in the aged care space, there is potential for Vision 2020 Australia and members to continue to advocate on the issue of blindness and low vision for older Australians. Results of the Aged Care Royal Commission are high on our agenda for review in coming months.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
The inclusion of the commitment to ending avoidable blindness in Indigenous communities by 2025 is a welcome one, and aligns with Strong eyes, strong communities: A five year plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and vision. Additionally, the Plan has a focus on strengthening rural health by addressing rural workforce capacity to boost the primary health workforce in rural and remote areas. This includes adding 300 new doctors and 300 new nurses to rural and regional practice and rolling out telehealth options.
There are a number of synergies across the Long Term National Health Plan and the work of Vision 2020 Australia and our members, and ways we can use the Plan to support our ongoing advocacy across key areas. We will be discussing the Plan with Minister Hunt and Minister Wyatt in our upcoming meetings with them in early September.