Prevention, a matter of life or death
Never has investment in better health been more crucial, says Helen Polley
MODERN healthcare has led to enormous gains in quality of life and life expectancy. However, rising costs, increasing rates of chronic disease, ageing population and inadequate access to treatment are increasing pressures on people and our health system.
We know too well there are inefficiency and structural concerns in the Tasmanian Health Service. One in 10 Tasmanians avoids medical treatment because of the cost and more than 9000 Tasmanians are waiting for elective surgery.
The unfolding healthcare tragedies have a human face. What should a Launceston man who has been diagnosed with bowel cancer do if he has been on the waiting list for more than two years? Should he move interstate? That is, if they have the means to do so.
Even if the cancer is nonaggressive no one would want to live with the fact they have a 100 per cent positive diagnosis and can’t be treated for two years or possibly three. Yet just a small colonoscopy (which could take 45 minutes) could tell them whether they are likely to die or not. What is a person supposed to do?
When the Hodgman State Government came to office in 2014 it vowed to make Tasmania the healthiest state by 2025, but we are yet to hear a progress report. The health portfolio has had a change of minister this year so it is important to understand whether the government believes it can still make its 2025 target.
The Healthy Tasmania
Five Year Strategic Plan was launched in 2016. It has four priority areas — smoking, healthy eating and physical activity, community connections, and chronic conditions screening and management.
The plan has been woefully underfunded, with $6.4 million budgeted over four years. Unfortunately, the Government has not successfully implemented this preventive strategy because the health of Tasmanians continues to worsen.
By all health indicators
Tasmania rates second poorest, with the Northern Territory still worst.
According to the Department of Health the proportion of adults who were overweight or obese in 20172018 was 70.9 per cent of Tasmanians, up from 67.5 per cent in 2014-2015. More than one quarter (27.2 per cent) of adults in Tasmania have high blood pressure. About 30,000 people (6.0 per cent) of Tasmanians suffer from cardiac disease including heart, stroke or vascular disease. And 28,400 (5.5 per cent) of Tasmanians have been diagnosed with diabetes.
Tasmania’s smoking rate is 18.9 per cent compared to a national rate of 12.4 per cent, and only one in 14 (7 per cent) adults met the guidelines for daily serves of both fruit and vegetables. The overwhelming majority of Tasmanians do not eat a healthy diet, contributing to these health problems.
These are sobering statistics and by all accounts educational programs are light on the ground and healthy living and eating television advertising is limited. If longterm change is to occur children must be targeted through early learning so better health practices can be adopted before adulthood.
It is fundamental that we hold this government to account because it is charged with the responsibility of creating better health outcomes for Tasmanians. At the moment, it is failing.
In the future, I hope for a government that works handin-hand with the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and is willing to not only invest in frontline health services, but also invest adequately in preventive health. I live in hope.
THE PROPORTION OF ADULT TASMANIANS WHO WERE OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE IN 2017-2018 WAS 70.9 PER CENT, UP FROM 67.5 PER CENT IN 2014-2015