Health | Ageing

Integration and sustainability critical to Australia’s health system

Federal Department of Health Secretary, Dr Brendan Murphy, told a CEDA livestream audience that cross-sector collaboration was one of the most significant lessons for Australia’s healthcare system from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the best lessons that we’ve learnt from this pandemic is … how we are capable as a nation to work collaboratively across governments, all governments, and key stakeholders,” he said. 

Dr Murphy, who led the health response to the pandemic as Australia’s former Chief Medical Officer until July, joined Telstra Health Managing Director, Professor Mary Foley AM; Bupa Director of Clinical Governance, Dr Zoe Wainer; and Sarah Butler, Partner and National Health Leader at PwC Australia, for a discussion about the integration and sustainability of Australia’s health system.  

Dr Murphy explained that national collaboration had enabled governments to make important policy changes that may previously have taken years within a matter of days.  

“The degree of cooperation between governments, private and public hospitals, aged care, private practitioners, and all the other health service providers has been remarkable,” he said.  

“A great example of this has been the second wave in Victoria recently, where with these partnerships, we’ve been able to transfer more than 500 residential aged care residents into private hospitals, which were rapidly repurposed to look after these vulnerable people during COVID outbreaks.” 

He said another example of this innovation had been telehealth, where the Federal Government introduced a telehealth MBS item in a matter of days, resulting in more than 33 million telehealth consultations to date. 

Professor Foley noted that digital solutions could improve all dimensions of sustainability in healthcare, from issues of access, affordability, efficiency through to quality, safety, and good health outcomes.  

“Digital solutions are key enablers for supporting patients, care providers, health and aged care organisations, policy makers, and funders to evolve the health system we need for the future,” she said.  

“Our collective experience of COVID throughout 2020 has exposed existing fault lines that were already in our systems, but it has also, and most importantly, accelerated policy solutions.” 

Dr Wainer commented that the pandemic highlighted the need for the health system to respond in a coordinated way. 

“COVID accelerated the conversation around integration and sustainability, in part because it exploited vulnerabilities in the system and society, in particular social inequities,” she said. 

“It has taught us that the sector as a whole needs to come together with a common vision, recognising the risk in not doing so and to look at what is best for the patient and also the community.”