PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
We are facing a generational shift in the prevalence of preventable diseases. The number of Victorians suffering from type two diabetes has doubled over the past decade. Over the next 20 years, the number of people diagnosed is projected to increase by 400 percent.
Preventable diabetes, heart disease, stroke, mental illness and respiratory illness are now the leading causes of disability and death, and create a huge demand on the Victorian healthcare system. These diseases take a heavy toll on the quality of life of many Victorians.
There are several risk factors that make people more vulnerable to these chronic diseases, including levels of physical activity, diet and alcohol consumption, obesity, air pollutants and socio-economic status.
In our modern society, there are many factors that make it hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Junk food is often cheaper and much more readily available than healthy food options. Some areas, particularly low income areas, suffer from a shortage of local stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables. People are working longer hours and becoming more dependent on eating out or take away. With the increased reliance on computers, our work and home lives have become much more sedentary. From a young age, our children are exposed to a stream of junk food advertising on TV, online, at sports clubs, on billboards and on public transport. In many areas, there is a lack of public transport, bike and walking paths. Urban infill development is reducing the greens space we have to play and exercise in. With all these factors at play, it’s no wonder our health is suffering.
THE GREENS PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN
Currently, Victoria is guided by the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2011–2015. This plan includes some good ideas but lacks concrete commitments to clear actions and lacks funding.
To help people better manage their health and to take the pressure off our hospitals, the Greens will develop, in consultation with public health and community health experts, a Public Health Action Plan to address the upsurge in preventable chronic disease.
Our comprehensive action plan will invest $400 million in new funding over four years and develop targets and action plans to better prevent, manage and recover from a range of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, hepatitis, HIV, and cancer.
IMPROVING EDUCATION AND AWARENESS
Evidence suggests better investment in community education and awareness programs about healthy lifestyles and the risks of junk food help people stay healthy.
For example, after NSW implemented mandatory kilojoule labelling on menus in chain food stores, research found consumers purchased healthier meals. Despite the benefit of encouraging healthier eating and the calls of health groups since 2010, the Napthine Government has failed to implement such a scheme in Victoria.
The Greens’ action plan will incorporate and build on the important work of Healthy Together Victoria. Each year the Greens Public Health Action Plan will:
- invest $5 million annually to continue the work of Healthy Together Victoria;
- provide $15 million annually in grants for specialised food education and infrastructure programs, which support schools with high rates of disadvantage to include food education in learning, provide funding for as kitchens and kitchen gardens, and provide parent and child health screening;
- invest $3.5 million annually in TV advertising about the risks of sugary drinks, particularly for children;
- introduce mandatory kilojoule labelling on chain food stores and invest $1.2 million over three years in a supporting education campaign;
- invest $3 million annually to educate about disease warning signs, including heart attack; and
- maintain campaigns about the health risks of smoking, sun exposure, obesity and alcohol, including investing $3.2 million annually to keeping SunSmart going.
Investment in these measures can also save money. For example, for every dollar spent on SunSmart the government saves $3.60 in avoided healthcare costs.
PREVENTION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPREAD
As a community we have a duty of care to protect high-risk groups from the transmission of contagious diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV.
Hepatitis is the fastest growing cause of cancer death in Australia. 41 percent of Victorian prisoners have Hepatitis C, compared to one percent of the general population. Hepatitis prevalence amongst migrants from some countries with high rates of Hepatitis B is as high as 10 percent in Victoria. Left untreated, Hepatitis causes liver cancer and increased demand on our health system. Despite having come along way, HIV remains a significant health issue, particularly in high risk population groups.
The Greens will invest $6.2 million to:
- provide targeted free Hepatitis B immunisation programs for at risk groups;
- create a rapid testing research pilot program for Hepatitis;
- undertake needle exchange pilot programs across Victorian prisons;
- boost funding to HIV prevention, including HIV and syphilis regular testings; and
- reduce barriers to HIV and Hepatitis testing and care.
This will help prevent the spread and reduce the severity of these diseases.
Approximately 92 percent of Australian adults have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and almost 40 percent have three or more risk factors. The likelihood of having risk factors for this and other preventable diseases increases markedly from the age of 45.
Health screening at this age is a very valuable tool to understand if you face health risks and what you can do about them, however few people seek out regular health checks with their GP. Investment in awareness and breaking down the barriers that stop people checking in about their health will help prevent illness. An important way to do this is to fund community health clinics to offer free screening for low income householders.
The Greens will:
- introduce nurse-led early detection primary health screening at community health centres and Aboriginal health services for 45 year old low income patients to detect risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease ($5 million annually); and
- launch an awareness campaign about the need for a GP health check at age 45 through GP clinics and community health services ($1 million annually).
MORE REHABILITATION SERVICES
Effective management and rehabilitation from preventable diseases is also critical to avoid further hospitalisation. For example, rehabilitation makes a big difference to improve patient’s recovery after heart attack. Yet, only 50 percent of Victorians are referred to cardiac rehabilitation and only 30 percent complete the program due to insufficient funding, poor referral processes and models of care that don’t meet patient needs. This results in 34 percent of patients returning to hospital within six months – costing the system at least $50 million a year.
By boosting cardiac rehabilitation we could reduce readmissions through less people suffering another heart attack or further complications. This would save lives and health costs.
The Greens will invest:
- at least $2.7 million annually in expanding cardiac rehabilitation services to improve recovery from heart attack and help prevent further heart disease.
MORE SUPPORT TO STAY HEALTHY AND MANAGE DISEASES
Community Health Centres provide primary and allied healthcare at discounted rates to low-income households, provide preventative health programs, and specialised and coordinated care for patients with complex problems.
Community Health Centres provide quality services at a very low cost to the government, relative to other health settings. Yet they are not well funded and funding often doesn’t reflect population growth and demographic change. Greater and appropriate investment is required to expand the delivery of community health services and programs as they are critical to help keep people out of hospital.
The Greens will invest in primary, women’s and community health. We will:
- invest $15 million to offer more community based healthy lifestyle programs for diabetes, heart disease, smoking and obesity prevention and support, such as healthy eating classes, exercise and support groups, and affordable dietician, physiotherapy and relevant allied health care;
- boost funding to drug and alcohol support services by $35 million annually to reduce waiting lists and provide more care to those struggling with methamphetamine (ice) and other addictions.
- Invest $5 million annually in women’s sexual and reproductive health planning and programs.
PLANNING FOR HEALTH
The Greens will also invest in public transport, protect our urban green space and make health and wellbeing an objective of our planning laws. For more information see the Greens’ Healthy Neighbourhoods policy.
With the right investment, we can live happier, healthier lives and save money.
We know prevention is better than cure, yet our health funding priorities do not reflect it. Successive Liberal and Labor Governments have spent less than one percent of the health budget on promoting good health and less than two percent on community health.