Stronger focus on preventive health strategy

Launched this week, the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030, aims to provide more balance to the health system by having a stronger focus on preventive health.

The Strategy presents an opportunity for Australia to build a stronger prevention system over the next 10 years. It is set to assist in preventing diseases, reducing risk factors and keeping people healthy and well. The Strategy recognises that health is not just about having a disease or injury – it is a state of wellbeing.

The department of health is currently developing a Blueprint for Action to guide the implementation of the Strategy over the coming years which targets will be measured over a 10-year timeframe.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) welcomes the launch as it says there’s an urgent need to address health inequalities, and embed ‘prevention’ in the health system.

 APA National President Scott Willis says that the APA has long called for accelerated establishment of new preventive health models across priority populations.

“This Strategy will ensure we apply a stronger health equity lens to preventive health actions, and when coupled with physiotherapy, will result in better health and wellbeing. Physiotherapy holds some of the most promising models in reorienting the health system towards primary care,” says Mr Willis.

“We know that priority populations stand to benefit most from physiotherapy-led prevention, and this Strategy signals an important shift from management to prevention, which will be critical for all Australians.”

It is estimated that a third of the disease burden in Australia could be prevented by reducing modifiable risk factors, such as obesity or physical inactivity. The Strategy places a strong emphasis on the importance of physiotherapy in prevention over the lifecycle.

Representing the highest health spend at $14 billion, more money is spent on musculoskeletal disorders, such as osteoarthritis and back pain, than any other disease, condition or injury in Australia.

“Physiotherapy helps people of all ages to prevent, manage and rehabilitate injury, illness or disability, and screen for a range of preventive health conditions, particularly in the ‘pain’ space,” says Mr Willis.

“The Strategy points to physical inactivity as a key determinant of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, mental health conditions, experiencing falls and musculoskeletal conditions.

“Physical activity can assist in the prevention and management of these conditions, and physiotherapy plays a key role in preventing or reducing the length of hospitalisation through its prescription.

“Prescribing our way out of pain is not a viable solution. The expansion of public physiotherapy for prevention and management of chronic conditions and pain, is critical. Too many Australians are waiting for treatment, and this expansion should extend to the prevention of falls, workplace injuries, chronic pain, sporting injuries and those living with disability.”

According to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) President Professor John Wilson, the pandemic is evidence of how pivotal it is to have a strong health system in place.

“The pandemic has taught us the importance of having a strong health system that is prepared for major health crises and the increasing burden of chronic diseases. Prevention is a critical pillar of a robust health system – a pillar that has been underfunded and under-recognised for too long.

“The strategy sets a comprehensive preventive health agenda for Australia over the next decade. We strongly support these commitments and ask the government to move towards this goal with the alacrity it deserves.

“We also welcome the forthcoming ‘Blueprint for Action’ and ‘Prioritisation Framework’ which will guide the implementation of the Strategy. We are pleased to see the strategy is built on significant international evidence such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and call on the government to commit to a timeframe and detailed funding for completing these.

“Implementation of the strategy and progress towards its targets need to be evaluated and publicly reported on.

“To be successful, the Strategy needs to be well-funded. We are calling on the Federal Government to demonstrate its commitment to this Strategy by providing a comprehensive funding plan commencing with next year’s March budget linked to the aims and targets in the strategy. The pandemic has demonstrated that there is no time to lose; this should not wait any longer.

“This important plan has been developed closely with health and medical experts. We call on all major parties to commit to supporting and implementing this plan.

“In light of the pandemic and an epidemic of chronic disease, the importance of safeguarding health at a population level is only increasing.

“Australians are becoming increasingly susceptible to living with complex and co-morbid conditions. National health outcomes could flourish with a preventive health strategy that prioritises and invests in the health and wellbeing of all Australians.”