Marie McInerney writes:
A public health forum in Melbourne next week will look for answers about future investment in preventative health programs in Victoria, amid concerns that the landmark Healthy Together Victoria initiative – which has attracted international attention – is set to lapse.
Public Health Association of Australia (Victorian Branch) president Brian Vandenberg said the new Victorian Labor Government had brought in very welcome social and health policy initiatives since its election in late 2014, including setting up Australia’s first Royal Commission into Family Violence, which began hearings in Melbourne last week.
However, he said the Government had yet to reveal its plans and policies on a range of vital public health issues such as obesity, alcohol and tobacco.
In particular, there is fear over the future of the Healthy Together Victoria program, which was launched in 2012 by the then Victorian Coalition Government to take a “complex systems approach” to address obesity and related chronic disease.
“The issue that is top of mind for people working in public health is the future of investment in preventative health funding programs in Victoria,” Vandenberg told Croakey.
“We’ve seen a number of disappointing federal decisions, including the scrapping of the Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health in 2014, so we are looking for leadership from Victoria in delivering effective community-based health promotion and preventative health programs in the state.”
To open up that discussion, the Health Above Politics: Tackling the big public health issues facing Victoria forum is being hosted in Melbourne next Tuesday 28 July by the PHAA (Vic), together with the Australian Health Promotion Association (Victorian Branch) (AHPA), Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine (AFPHM), Australasian Epidemiological Association and The Doherty Institute.
It will feature a Q&A panel of speakers representing the major political parties in Victoria, including:
- Mary-Anne Thomas, Parliamentary Secretary for Health
- Hon Mary Wooldridge MP, Leader of the Opposition (Legislative Council), Shadow Minister for Health
- Colleen Hartland, Victorian Greens health spokesperson.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy is not able to attend.
Croakey’s Conference News service will live tweet the event using the #HealthyPolitics hashtag and report later on the main issues and answers emerging.
Vandenberg said the future of Healthy Together Victoria will loom large on the night, as will issues around workforce and training for public health specialists.
Heralded as “the largest and most rigorously planned population health intervention at a community level experienced in Australia”, Healthy Together Victoria was intended to position Victoria as a world leader in prevention.
As well as developing statewide policies and initiatives, it applied a concentrated and coordinated prevention effort across 14 vulnerable local government areas – Hume, Wyndham, Whittlesea, Knox, Greater Dandenong, Cardinia Shire, Mildura, Greater Bendigo, Wodonga, Latrobe, Greater Geelong, Ararat, Pyrenees and Central Goldfields as Healthy Together Communities.
It’s been funding a workforce of more than 100 health promotion professionals across the state, largely in state and local government, community health services and non-government organisations, and also saw the creation of the Centre for Excellence in Intervention and Prevention Science (CEIPS) public health research facility.
As part of its February 2015 series on obesity, The Lancet looked at the role of the Healthy Together workforce, saying:
“… the professionals in place to promote local health do not deliver programmes or projects, but they support local settings and community leaders to map their systems (such as food provided in schools or the fruits and vegetables supplied in a town) and identify and take the necessary measures within the systems to promote healthy food and physical activity environments and behaviours.”
Health Minister Hennessy said in May it was a “terrific” program but that failure by the Federal Government to allocate the required $30 million for it in 2015-16 had left the State Government looking at how it could “save parts” of it.
Vandenberg said it was too early to tell whether Healthy Together Victoria would have delivered on its ambitions, as it was initially planned to run until 2018, which he said made the early loss of funding so disappointing. The uncertainty this has created for the workforce is particularly a concern given the loss in recent years of State Government funding for workforce development, particularly through the Victorian Public Health Training Scheme (VPHTS).
“Healthy Together Victoria was incredibly well planned – its design is world class and the world is really watching to see what impact it’s going to have because it’s not tackling issues that are unique to Victoria. It’s specifically trying to beef up the grassroots capacity in community health and local government around preventive health actions, particularly in terms of slowing the rise in obesity,” he said.
“If it’s not to be Healthy Together Victoria, then we want to know what else is going to be done in Victoria, where governments and parties will be putting their effort and investment, and moving beyond a debate with Canberra over who is to blame. We want them to put health above politics,” said AHPA (Vic) President David Towl.
Some of the other questions that host organisations hope to pose to the political panellists include:
- If prevention is better than the cure, why are political parties not brave enough to invest in it? We might need more nurses and doctors now – but we also need preventative health professionals to reduce the demand on treatment services in the future. What are you going to do?
- Public health physicians are grossly under-represented in the workforce of regional and remote Victoria yet play a critical role in driving, shaping and implementing public health policy and activity. Will you support workforce changes and increased training opportunities in these areas to address this?
- The Australian Senate response to the World Health Organisation’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health “Closing the gap within a generation” seeks wide-ranging responses. What will Victoria do to help address these?
- How do we build the long-term commitment to sustained investment and reform that is required for population health improvement in Victoria, independent of political affiliations?
The Health Above Politics forum is being moderated by former ACT Health Minister Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer, Public Health Association of Australia.
It’s being held on Tuesday 28 July, 5:30pm – 7:30pm in the Auditorium of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, 792 Elizabeth St, Melbourne (NB. Enter via Grattan Street). Seats are limited.
• Book your place via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/health-above-politics-tackling-the-big-public-health-issues-facing-victoria-tickets-17536787002
Meanwhile, from the Croakey archives: Back in 2011, Professor Boyd Swinburn asked: Is Victoria the pace setter in health promotion?