Healthiest state in Australia is ambitious but achievable

One in four.

That is how many Tasmanians are living with three or more chronic health conditions.

Just think about that for a minute … one quarter of our population go about their daily lives living with multiple illnesses such as heart and lung disease, diabetes or obesity.

These are potentially preventable illnesses that could mean a better quality of life for our fellow Tasmanians. 

And the demand for acute care that these illnesses require continue to put pressure on our public health system and emergency departments.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow and one that absorbs nearly one third of the state budget.  

The fact the State Government has confirmed its ambitions for Tasmania to be the healthiest state in the nation by 2025 opens the door to what should be a serious discussion about both preventative care and new ways of delivering hospital care. 

Ambitious? Of course, but it is a goal worth striving for.  While not achievable by 2025, it is achievable, but it will take time and a willingness to do things differently.

It is a journey worth taking and one St.LukesHealth, Tasmania’s not-for-profit health insurer, is willing to stare down.

We care about the health of all Tasmanians and believe Tasmania can become the healthiest state in Australia.

But in order to do so we can’t continue to do more of the same. It’s time for new ways of thinking, new partnerships and a shared approach to this shared vision.   The light being shone on our health system this week through the Budget Estimate hearings reveals a seemingly never-ending cycle of crisis where the main strategy is to throw more money at the acute end of the system. 

For the last decade we have funded more beds, more elective surgery, more fly-in locums.  Locums alone cost the state $34 million in 2019-20 – with $13.4 million at the Launceston General Hospital alone. In the same decade we have seen a 110 per cent increase in presentations to our emergency departments, with the LGH data showing increasing presentations and wait times well above Tasmanian and national levels. 

These “presentations” are people.  Our mum or dad, grandparent or  child, our neighbour.  Imagine for a second if it was your mother or your child waiting for hours on end to receive care.

Thirty-two per cent of the State Budget spending goes on health – but it does not scratch the surface of these deeply entrenched health challenges, and it currently does little to help Tasmania hit that ambitious but laudable 2025 target. 

There is no quick fix or one answer to these challenges.  But there are a range of new strategies that can be put in place, but only with a desire to think differently and act decisively. 

We must look towards preventative care measures where Tasmanians can take control of their health.  We won’t achieve this until we can guarantee that health services are accessible and affordable to all Tasmanians.

And to change our current state of “norm”, the private and public health sectors must work together. This will relieve pressure from our public health systems and make sure that those who do urgently need care are receiving it.  

 We’ve seen the benefits of this throughout the COVID-19 pandemic where private hospitals took on public patients so our public hospitals could concentrate on the pandemic response.

St.LukesHealth has looked at various models of care and believes in small regional centres like Northern Tasmania, the solution lies in co-locating public and private hospitals.  

Northern Tasmania currently has this once-in-a-generation opportunity with Calvary’s $100 million unsolicited bid at planning stage with the Coordinator-General’s office. 

But for this to meet the health needs of the northern community and start to tackle the challenges of our health system it  must be a collaborative and shared approach to ensure we get the right services, the right specialists, the right model for the current and future needs of northern Tasmanians. 

The right model that ensures Tasmania improves the retention and recruitment of specialists to our island state.  Importantly, a model that achieves healthier Tasmanians.

Making Tasmania the healthiest state in Australia is ambitious, but we must not give up on that vision, the lives of each and every one of us depend on it.

Paul Lupo, St.LukesHealth CEO

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