Pre­ven­tion, a mat­ter of life or death

Never has in­vest­ment in bet­ter health been more cru­cial, says He­len Pol­ley

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT - He­len Pol­ley is a La­bor se­na­tor for Tas­ma­nia.

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.


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