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Secretary's Review

These important programs have been complemented by a number of 2018-19 Budget initiatives, which committed over $338 million, for the provision of support for: the Royal Flying Doctor service to deliver mental health care in rural and remote locations; mental health research through the Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission; and strengthening of the National Mental Health Commission. In addition, in October 2017 an exciting step was taken with the launch of the ‘Head to Health’ digital gateway. This award winning website now makes it easier for the one in five Australians who experience mental illness each year to receive free or low cost assistance through a one stop shop, for services and resources delivered by the country’s most trusted providers.

Preventive health programs

The Department also supports the effective delivery of preventive health measures to reduce health related risk factors within the Australian population. A considerable number of preventive health initiatives were implemented in 2017-18, including wide ranging activities to address healthy eating, physical activity, obesity, tobacco, alcohol and other drug misuse, research, chronic disease and cancer screening.

A wonderful example of a preventive health program is the Healthy Heart Initiative. It establishes critical preventive health focus for cardiovascular programs through partnerships with the National Heart Foundation and GPs. In doing so it provides people with tools and information to live active and healthy lives through establishing partnerships with these key stakeholders.

Another example is the launch of the National Cancer Screening Register, which aims to improve Australia’s capacity to screen for cervical and, in time, other cancers. The Register creates a single national record for the collection, storage, analysis and reporting of screening data for the National Cervical Screening Program and will provide an effective way to help the almost 900 women each year who are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

In 2017-18, the Department also supported the delivery of the Government’s $14.1 million No Jab, No Pay initiative through the National Immunisation Program. While Australia has high immunisation rates, with over 94 per cent of five year olds fully vaccinated, the Department remains committed to increasing immunisation rates, particularly in areas of low population coverage.

Support for sport and physical activity

The Department proudly supported the delivery of a range of sporting activities in 2017-18. This included the highly successful 2018 Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast. In addition, for the first time, the women’s Rugby League World Cup was held in conjunction with the men’s Rugby League World Cup, hosted in 13 cities across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Both the Australian men’s and women’s teams were crowned world champions on home soil.

In 2017-18, we continued to deliver better sport outcomes for all Australians by boosting participation opportunities in a range of sporting activities, optimising international performance and safeguarding integrity in sport. Since 2015, for example, the Sporting Schools Program has exceeded expected targets, with over 350,000 children per term participating in the program across 6,570 schools. It is programs like these, and the Girls Make Your Move campaign, that make important contributions to promoting healthy lifestyles and lowering obesity.

The Department has also been collaborating closely with the Australian Sports Commission (now Sport Australia) on the development of Sport 2030: National Sport Plan (the Plan), which was released on 1 August 2018. The Plan, which encapsulates many ideas from the sporting sector and the general public, aims to create a platform for an active Australia known for its sporting success and integrity. It will be underpinned by ongoing implementation and delivery of sports programs, integrity initiatives and the staging of major international sporting events. Sport is an important vehicle to address disadvantage and social inclusion challenges and the Plan provides a solid foundation for building a strong sporting, and highly active nation.

Commitment to sport has been further strengthened through the 2018-19 Budget with the Government investing $230 million over five years for initiatives such as:

  • a sports infrastructure grants program to provide better access to quality sport facilities;
  • an expansion of the Local Sporting Champions grants program to help young athletes pay for equipment, uniforms and other costs; and
  • the Safe Sport Australia program to build child safe cultures and practices in sport.

A new grant program is also being implemented to promote physical activity among older Australians. National sporting organisations and non-government organisations are being supported to develop and implement local, community based activities to encourage Australians aged 65 years and over to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives.

Funding for public hospitals

During 2017-18, the Government worked closely with state and territory governments and health portfolio entities to develop a five year Heads of Agreement for future public hospital funding and health reform. Through the Heads of Agreement, the Government will provide an additional $30.2 billion public hospital funding to deliver $130.2 billion from 2020‑21 and 2024-25. The agreement has been signed by the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Improving aged care services

The Department has been implementing a substantial reform agenda across the aged care sector. These reforms support more choice of care services, particularly for older people wanting to stay at home in their senior years and focus on strengthening the quality and safety of care provided across the sector.

To meet the growing older population needs, funding for aged care will increase by $5 billion to reach $23.6 billion by 2021-22. In 2017-18, the Government announced additional Home Care Packages with almost 100,000 packages provided last year. Funding arrangements were extended to 30 June 2020 for the Commonwealth Home Support Programme. Older Australians unable to continue living independently were also provided with a range of options, including over 210,000 residential aged care places. Upgrades were made to the My Aged Care website to make it more user friendly and easier to find information for consumers and providers.

Work continued on legislation to strengthen quality and safety of care regulation, develop a combined quality and complaints commission and increase compliance activity. Other key initiatives that commenced implementation in 2017-18 included $50 million to support residential care providers transition to the new Aged Care Quality Standards, more support for palliative care and people living with dementia. Consultation also commenced on improved mental health services for older people living in residential care and the community to inform implementation of services in 2018-19.

Rural workforce

Over the last fifteen years we have seen strong growth in the rural workforce, which includes a 26 per cent increase nationally in the rate of GP services per capita delivered in regional, rural and remote Australia. While this is a considerable increase, we remain committed to ensuring that
Australia has the workforce necessary to improve access to services for people living in regional, rural and remote locations.

In 2017-18, the Department assisted the Government in developing an ambitious rural health strategy. The $550 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy will enable the provision of quality services through evidence based policy and well targeted programs. The Strategy will also enable the placement of 3,000 more specialist GPs, more than 3,000 nurses and hundreds more allied health professionals into the regions over the next ten years.

In addition to developing this transformational strategy, in 2017 the Department continued to support the delivery of health education and training initiatives to increase the recruitment and retention of health practitioners in regional, rural and remote areas. The Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program, Australian General Practice Training Program and the Specialist Training Program all play important roles in improving the quality and distribution of the future workforce.

Looking ahead

Work is well underway to deliver further reforms and implement programs that will support Australians to live healthy and active lives. During 2018-19 and beyond, the Department will
continue to deliver a significant program of work for the Government, such as:

  • working with our stakeholders to improve primary health care;
  • finalising MBS reviews to ensure patients receive safe, quality and contemporary best practice healthcare;
  • finalising amendments to the payment administration for high cost medicines to improve access to medicines and reduce cash flow impacts on participants in the pharmaceutical supply chain;
  • continuing to promote the benefits of the My Health Record while addressing community concerns about privacy and security provisions;
  • delivering the ten year National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan for the medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors, which will benefit many Australians through the provision of improved treatments, medicines and devices, as well as new jobs;
  • implementing rural health initiatives as part of the Stronger Rural Health Strategy, including delivery of funding to 13 specialist medical colleges participating in the Specialist Training Program to deliver over 1,000 specialist training posts in 2018;
  • reforming private health insurance to ensure it is simpler and more affordable for all Australians; and
  • delivering a range of important strategies, including the National Alcohol Strategy, the National Action Plan for Endometriosis and a national approach to hearing loss.

At the heart of Government reforms, aged care quality and safety is a priority. The Department will play an important role in supporting the Royal Commission into quality and safety in aged care services. While the Royal Commission undertakes this important work, the Department will continue to support the implementation of a range of measures designed to increase oversight of Australia’s aged care sector, including:

  • bringing aged care regulation, compliance and complaints handling together into a new and independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission;
  • implementing the new, consumer focused aged care quality standards and developing a new single Charter of aged care recipients’ rights; and
  • developing performance ratings for residential aged care service providers, which will be published on the My Aged Care website from July 2020.

The new Commission, to commence from 1 January 2019, will play a particularly important role. It will be responsible for accreditation, assessment, monitoring, and complaints management for all Australian Government subsidised aged care providers. The compliance functions are currently planned to move to the new Commission for 1 January 2020, pending the passage of legislation.

In 2018-19, the Department will also implement a range of maternal, infant and preventive health
programs to support children and parents, including the healthy pregnancies program and extensions to the Child Immunisation Education campaign. An enduring national breastfeeding strategy, Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2018 and Beyond, is also being developed to recognise that breastfeeding is an important first step to improved short and long term physical and mental health outcomes for both babies and mothers. The strategy will also recognise that breastfeeding is not always possible and that all parents need support regardless of how they feed their babies.

We will continue to have a strong focus on improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Improving primary health care, addressing crusted scabies and ear and eye health are key areas of priority. The Government has also provided $105.7 million for better access to aged care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In conclusion

The Department’s work to support the Government’s priorities has been made possible with a high performing and dedicated workforce. Departmental staff possess a wide range of skills and, as recently highlighted through the annual Australian Public Service Staff Survey, are an engaged, satisfied and committed workforce.

By drawing on the range of expertise and retaining, developing and attracting the right people, we will be well-placed to continue to provide high quality advice and deliver the Government’s comprehensive work program.

I thank the executive leadership group and all staff for their commitment to delivering high quality health, aged care and sporting outcomes for current and future generations of Australians.
I am very proud of what we have achieved over the past 12 months.

Glenys Beauchamp PSM
September 2018