JENNIFER DOGGETT. 8th National Health Reform Summit to focus on equity, efficiency and sustainability.

On Tuesday, March 27th the Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance (AHCRA) is hosting the 8th National Health Reform Summit in Canberra.  This biennial event brings together organisations, experts and individuals working to improve Australia’s health system.  This year’s Summit has a theme of Equity, Efficiency and Sustainability and will focus on developing positions on key health reform issues in the lead-up to the next federal election.  Registrations for this event and the associated Advocacy and Communications Workshop are still open at www.healthreform.org.au   

Readers of Pearls and Irritations will be familiar with the multiple problems facing Australians health system.  As described by John Menadue, Professor John Dwyer, Ian McAuley and many others writing on this blog, our health system is overly influenced by those with vested interests, at the expense of the consumers who both fund and use health care services.

This has lead to a system characterised by rent-seeking, inefficiencies, gaps in the provision of services, workforce maldistribution, poor access to information in many areas and uneven quality of service provision.  Unfortunately, this is compounded by politicians and policymakers who frequently make decisions that benefit providers rather than consumers.

Background to AHCRA and the Summit

The Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance (AHCRA) was formed to facilitate discussions among different organisations in the health sector on health reform issues.  It has worked with members to develop policies on a range of important issues, including health workforce, equity, primary care and Indigenous health.

These policies are evidence-based and based on AHCRA’s guiding principles, including equity, efficiency, universality and community engagement.

Next week the Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance (AHCRA) is hosting the 8th National Health Reform Summit in Canberra which has a theme of Equity, Efficiency and Sustainability.

This event brings key experts on health reform issues together with stakeholders for a day of presentations, discussion and debate on health reform issues, followed by a series of meetings with politicians and senior bureaucrats to share with them the findings of the Summit.

With politicians already in pre-election mode, the Summit will provide participants with the latest research on a range of health reform issues, the chance to discuss research findings with the expert presenters and the opportunity to network with other individuals and groups active in health reform.

Summit sessions

The Summit sessions have been designed to maximise innovative and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and give participants a new perspective on the challenges facing our health system.

The day will start with a session titled: Broken or just cracked?  Does our health system need to be rebuilt or can it be repaired?

This session focusses on identifying the signs that our health system needs reform and answering the question:  Do we need a major overhaul or can we get away with minor adjustments?  What are the implications of our federated system for making the changes needed to move our health system forward?  Panel speakers are Professor Andrew Wilson, Ian McAuley and Paul Jelfs.

The second session looks at the practical details of health reform. It is titled Shopping the pantry:  what ideas and resources do we already have to improve the health system? The main focus of this session is on identifying the most promising strategies that have been proposed to address the challenges facing our health system.  The Grattan Institute’s Professor Hal Swerrisen will discuss the research that he and colleague Stephen Duckett have undertaken as part of this session, along with health economics experts Professors Jane Hall and Nick Graves.

As anyone involved in advocacy knows, the most challenging component of any reform agenda is convincing governments of the need for change.  The third session of the Summit – Engaging politicians and governments – focusses on just this issue. This session will address how we can move beyond narrow discussions of new ‘wonder drugs’, hospital waiting lists and bulk-billing, which seem to dominate media coverage of health issues, and persuade politicians, bureaucrats and journalists of the importance of more fundamental health systems issues, including the importance of the social determinants of health.

With two ex-politicians (and current health organisation leaders) Michael Moore and Martin Laverty on the panel there will be no shortage of expert and insider advice on the best way to lobby governments.   Also speaking is Emma Campbell, the CEO of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia will provide a valuable perspective on health reform from Australia’s diverse cultural and linguistic organisations and communities.

The Soapbox session following lunch will open up the floor to all giving participants the opportunity to make a three-minute speech on any health reform issue they are concerned about.   Judging by previous AHCRA Summits, there will be no shortage of passionate speakers giving their perspective on issues such as mental health, values-based health care and the importance of cultural safety.

The final session of the day is titled Re-imagining the health system and aims to leave participants with some inspiring and thought-provoking ideas about The speakers include Professor Sharon Friel, Summer May Finlay, Dr Tim Woodruff and Professor John Dwyer.  Each speaker will bring their own unique perspective to outlining how they would go about re-designing the health system from scratch, knowing what we know now about our current and future healthcare needs.

This session will be followed by a facilitated discussion and wrap-up where all participants will be invited to contribute.  Associate Professor Fiona Tito-Wheatland has kindly agreed to ‘set the scene’ for this session by sharing her reflections on the day and suggesting some common themes and key issues that emerged in order to focus on in our discussions.

This session aims to reach agreement on some key points which will then be used to develop an official communique from the event, to be provided to politicians and key bureaucrats when the AHCRA Executive meets with them the following day and used as part of our advocacy activities in the lead-up to the next federal election.

Jennifer Doggett is the Chair of AHCRA, a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development a member of the Croakey Collective and a consultant working in the health sector. 

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