The Prime Minister launches the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report stressing the need to boost primary care. And then what does he do? Takes off, with Minister Roxon, on a tour of teaching hospitals. The impact will be to once again focus public attention and debate upon hospitals. You can bet the news will be full of pictures of hospital wards rather than of primary care services in the community.
It’s not so surprising that people like Professor Mark Harris, Executive Director of the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity at the University of NSW, is frustrated by the level of public debate about primary health care. He has sent in this comment about recent media coverage:
“The level of debate in the media about primary health care tends to be simplistic. An example is the statement in the news that large multi-disciplinary health centres (1 per 300,000 people) provide better quality of care.
Unfortunately the evidence is more complex. Larger practices/centres can more effectively provide multi-disiciplinary team care than very small practices and community health centres can improve access to care especially in disadvantaged areas.
However, smaller practices (<4 or 5 GPs) provide better quality of care and patients assess their care to be better than larger practices (4 or 5+GPs).
There have been virtually identical results from studies in Australia, UK and Canada.
Thus in advocating for more integrated multi-disciplinary primary health care (which I think we should), we need to be careful to create a system which protects patient centred continuity of care. We need to careful unpick the complexity in the evidence if we are to avoid policy change which has unintended consequences.”
Meanwhile, we await the launch of the Primary Health Care Strategy – another important arm of health reform efforts. Word around the traps was that its release was initially planned for yesterday, together with the NHHRC report and the Preventative Health Taskforce report.
One can only speculate about why plans changed and the implications of this. One thing’s for sure: it will help to keep health in the headlines although the primary health care strategy will probably struggle to gain anything like the attention being given to the “hospitals” report.