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More hospitals are not the solution

THE State Government has copped a lot of flack for recent decisions on country hospitals and, judging by the comments of the WA Business News health panel, we can expect even less emphasis on hospital services in future.

The panellists agreed there is far too much emphasis on hospitals and too little emphasis on preventive programs and community care.

Health reform committee chairperson Mick Reid said he was seeking to develop strategies to deal with the high rates of hospitalisation in Australia.

“We are looking at … a range of demand management strategies,” he said.

“How can we keep people out of hospitals – Australia has the highest hospitalisation rate in the OECD countries – through health prevention and better management of people?

“How can we better manage people within hospitals?

“We are far too dependent on our high cost facilities when a lot of our in-patients could be managed in downstream secondary tier services.”

AMA State president Brent Donovan agreed there is too much focus on hospitals.

“We are very hospital centric and part of the solution is to get more things out in the community,” he said.

Dr Donovan noted that most hospitalisations occur in the last three or four years of life.

With an ageing population, this trend created a problem that policy makers could not ignore, he said.

Other panelists said a challenge facing policy makers was a public perception that equated hospitals with good health services.

Health department director general Mike Daube called on health professionals to help educate the public about the long-term benefits of preventive programs.

“The difficulty I am hitting constantly is that there is a huge disconnect between what we say theoretically and what the community out there wants,” Mr Daube said. “I hear people say there is support for health prevention or remedying Indigenous disadvantage. I think that is there, in theory.

“I can tell you the lobbying I get from the community is not about prevention, it’s not about Indigenous disadvantage, it’s about why we are proposing some change to Dumbleyung hospital and something else that will impinge on what people perceive is happening to them today.

“The community out there is not ready for us to allocate resources from X to Y to prevent problems in the future.”

St John of God Subiaco chief executive Neale Fong echoed this view.

“The people of Moora think they have a good health care system if they have a hospital that is being rebuilt,” he said.

“The people of Australia understand health care to mean hospitals and buildings. We’ve got a huge effort to educate them about all the preventive stuff.”

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