As the head of Western Australia’s sole government agency tasked with promoting health and wellbeing, Healthway chief executive Susan Hunt is well aware of the responsibilities that come with her role.
For nearly three decades Healthway has been leading state government efforts to promote better health in the community, highlighted by its widely successful anti-smoking, healthy eating and active lifestyle campaigns.
Healthway’s primary focus, Ms Hunt said, was to provide grants and financial support to achieve its aim of building a healthier WA by focusing on five target areas – improving mental health, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, preventing harm from alcohol, and creating a smoke-free state.
“Healthway also funds a lot of research projects, to see what the best way is to actually get people to be active, and really it’s been quite world-leading in terms of that health promotion message and to help prevent health problems to come up in the future,” Ms Hunt told Business News.
“Healthway is pretty unique as well; there is only one other jurisdiction with a health promotion organisation, that’s in Victoria.
“And Lotterywest is the only state run and owned lottery in Australia; and the whole reason why Lotterywest exists is to do community grants, so it is quite unique and relatively unique globally.
“In coming together with Lotterywest, we see that that helps build our capacity.
“It is quite a small organisation, but it’s a funder and an enabler.”
With companies large and small across WA seeking better mental health outcomes, Ms Hunt said Healthway would continue to seek out new partnerships to leverage synergies and make a lasting impact.
“We really like to support innovative research, complement other partners in research where the corporates can really do a lot,” Ms Hunt said.
“We like to fund in partnership and encourage others, using our funding as a bit of a nudge to get others involved.
“We are large funders of medical research, particularly in the health promotion area at Healthway, and at Lotterywest a lot of the work we are doing is to complement existing research.
“Lotterywest funding has bought a lot of equipment that can make a real difference, but also research equipment.
“To be able to attract the best minds in the state, they need the equipment. Lotterywest dollars will often go into that.
“Given that we are the most isolated [capital] city in the world, the big thing is to attract talent and retain it.
“Lotterywest and Healthway see that we have a role in helping to work with government, industry and the research sector to help build our capacity and attract and retain talent.”
While the McGowan government’s merger of Lotterywest with Healthway has the agency better placed than ever to make a lasting impact, Ms Hunt said promoting better mental health outcomes was looming as a significant challenge.
The most recent National Health Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated that 4.8 million Australians, or 20.1 per cent of the population, were experiencing a mental or behavioural illness in 2017-18, while research by the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists estimated the cost of severe mental illness in Australia in 2014 was $56.7 billion per year.
“The research shows that it’s really important to acknowledge mental health as an issue in a working life or in life generally,” Ms Hunt told Business News.
“Awareness is very important, and that’s fundamental to wellbeing generally.
“We are in a good place now where we can talk about mental health just as we would for people that had other sorts of wellbeing issues, so that’s very positive.”
In 2017-18, Healthway’s biggest allocation of funds was to its priority of promoting positive mental health, with 26.9 per cent of funding used in that area.
“There are a lot of challenges out there for health promotion, and health prevention,” Ms Hunt said.
“What we keep asking for is better proposals to support, that’s what we are really looking for. And in the business context, we’re looking for corporates to come in and support that as much as possible, because if there is a good project, a lot of the corporates already do work in this area and we can create good partnerships.
“A lot of corporates are already investing quite a lot in supporting indigenous communities and healthy environments, and that is a really big plus.
“To maintain that as a priority in the corporate world creates great opportunities for partnerships with Healthway and Lotterywest.”
Ms Hunt said Healthway was also seeking to establish culturally appropriate mental health programs in WA, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at higher risk of preventable ill health and chronic disease.
Across all of Healthway’s initiatives, 74 per cent of funding in 2017-18 supported activities that included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while 73.8 per cent of funding supported activities reaching rural and remote populations.
Sponsorship campaigns run by Healthway not only provide funding for sports, racing, arts and community-based events and activities that encourage healthy lifestyles, but also help extend the reach of those campaigns.
Specific initiatives include a new partnership with Healthway, Gymnastics WA and Foodbank WA to engage children in healthy eating, while Ms Hunt said a partnership with the Western Australian Cricket Association to replace advertising for unhealthy products with healthier options was providing better outcomes for cricket clubs across WA.
“[WACA chief executive] Christina Matthews has found that’s been really good for business in terms of sponsorships, and she was surprised how positive that was for her organisation, not just internally, but also in her clients and customers,” Ms Hunt said.
“That’s where corporates supporting healthy lifestyles and health initiatives is good for business.
“Those sorts of campaigns are what we try and support, but there is so much more to do in that area.
“What creates a mentally healthy life for some might not for others, it’s just such a complex area.”