National Women's Health Policy

National Health reform

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Access to health services

In Australia, women are more frequent users of the health system. More women than men visit general practitioners, with older women visiting GPs and hospitals more often than younger women.443 Australian women accounted for 56 per cent of visits to GPs in 2006–07.444

Women are also more likely to take responsibility for the health of those around them including dependants and parents. With an ageing population and increasing life expectancies, there will be more people with disabilities and an increasing demand for carers to look after them. This has particular implications for women and their interaction with the health system. Women currently represent 71 per cent of primary carers in Australia.445 In this context, it is even more important that women have access to flexible health services that enable them to fulfil their different roles.

Access to health care, particularly primary health care such as GPs and other health care providers, is extremely important for all Australians to allow prevention, early detection and treatment of illness, and management of chronic conditions.

All Australian women regardless of their geographic location, ethnicity, sexuality or financial resources have the right to universal access to basic health care that is high quality and responsive. However, some groups of women face significant barriers in accessing health care services and information, and these can include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, culturally and linguistically diverse women, women with disabilities and women in same sex relationships. It is importnt that attempts are made to understand the needs of these groups in order to reduce the barriers in acessing services. For disadvantaged and vulnerable women, improving access to health services is a significant contributor to improved health outcomes.

Key issues which can inhibit some women’s access to health care may include:
  • geographic remoteness and restrictions of service availability and cost;
  • lack of transport services;
  • a lack of culturally appropriate health services and information;
  • language barriers between patients and health care providers;
  • racism;
  • discrimination based on sexuality or the assumption of heterosexuality;
  • different conceptions of health; and
  • inaccessibility of buildings, services and information, particularly for women with a disability.
Possible consequences of these barriers may include a lack of awareness about available services, lowered expectations of the health care system and decreased satisfaction with care that can dissuade future attempts to access health care. 446 447 448
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Health care reform

The government is undertaking a significant health care reform agenda which includes addressing major access and equity issues that affect Australian women. It is underpinned by the principle that Australia’s health system should promote social inclusion and reduce disadvantage.

The National Health and Hospital Network (NHHN) will deliver a strong and effective health system focused on equitable access to high quality health care. This will be achieved through the creation of a single national unified health system which is nationally funded and locally run.

The redesign of the health system will provide new ways of organising services to facilitate continuity of care for women. This will be achieved through:
  • clearer responsibilities between the Commonwealth and states;
  • the best allocation of health resources throughout the system;
  • improved quality and safety, performance and accountability; and
  • improved efficiency and local responsiveness of health and aged care services.
These changes will allow for programmes and initiatives to be better planned, coordinated and delivered to maintain the higher level of health generally of Australian women and improve the health and wellbeing of individual women who interact with the health system.

National

Clearer responsibilities between the Commonwealth and states Under the National Health and Hospitals Network, the Commonwealth will become the majority funder of the Australian public hospital system. The Commonwealth will also have full policy responsibility for general practice (GP), primary health care and aged care. The Commonwealth will leverage its funding responsibility to deliver more coordination, control and accountability at the local level.

Under the National Health and Hospital Agreement, states and territories are required to meet specified financial obligations, establish Local Hospital Networks and National Health and Hospitals Network Funding Authorities, provide data to the Independent Pricing Authority, maintain their current level of effort in the delivery of GP and primary health care services, and ensure that appropriate levels of health expenditure are maintained.

Best allocation of health resources throughout the health system

The Commonwealth Government will make significant investments including:
  • $3.5 billion to improve access to public hospital services;
  • $1.2 billion in workforce initiatives; and
  • $466.7 million in key components of the eHealth system.
Improved quality and safety, performance and accountability A range of governance functions (performance, funding and reporting frameworks) will be established to underpin the reform process and make the system more transparent and drive improvements across all aspects of the health care system. These include the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA), the National Performance Authority (NPA) and the continuation and expansion of the Australian Commission on Quality and Safety in Health Care.

Local

Improved efficiency and local responsiveness of health and aged care services

The health system needs to be more responsive to the needs of individuals and of local communities. Local hospital networks will be established to manage and deliver hospital services.

The government will establish a network of new Medicare Locals across Australia. One of the functions of Medicare Locals will be to deliver health promotion and preventative health programs targeted to risk factors in their local communities. The new Medicare Locals will tailor programs and activities to meet the needs of their local communities as well as monitor outcomes more effectively. These organisations will be supported in this role by the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, which will provide national standards and guidelines to support the roll-out of effective and appropriate programs. The establishment of primary health care organizations—funded nationally and run locally—will mean the coordination of general practitioner and allied health professional services, ensuring they are better integrated and more responsive to the needs and priorities of patients and communities.

Over time, in conjunction with the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, Primary Health Care organisations will be responsible for a range of functions aimed at making it easier for patients to navigate the local health care system and to provide more integrated care. These functions will include:
  • identification of groups of people missing out on GP and primary health care, or services that a local area needs, and better targeting services to respond to these gaps; and
  • delivery of health promotion and preventive health programs targeted to risk factors in communities.