A better distribution of health professionals would mean fewer avoidable deaths

12 December 2013

The new report from the National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) highlights the critical importance of preventing disease through health promotion activity and treating early stages of disease quickly and effectively, for example through early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes. People in rural and remote areas are missing out on such attention because of a range of issues, including health workforce shortages.

The new NHPA report shows that, on average, more than 33,000 Australians younger than 75 years of age die each year from avoidable causes. That is two-thirds of all deaths of people in this age group. Almost 40 per cent of these avoidable deaths (about 13,000 a year) could have been prevented by existing health services if better organised or more available, while over 60 per cent (about 20,000 a year) could have been prevented if people had better access to preventive health measures (eg screening, good nutrition and healthy habits such as exercise and not smoking).

The report reminds us of the personal pain and suffering and the dollar costs to the individual and to the taxpayer (as well as to the economy in terms of lower productivity), due to the burden of preventable disease, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Within rural areas, rates of ‘treatable deaths’ range from 60 per 100,000 in Lower Murray to 110 per 100,000 people in Central and North West Queensland. Such rates compare with 41 per 100,000 in Inner East Melbourne.

The new report shows how each of the 61 Medicare Local areas fares on 18 measures of health service use, prevention, experiences and outcomes, allowing rapid understanding of each area’s best opportunities for improvements. This provides individual Medicare Locals with a benchmark against which to work so as to improve outcomes for their constituents.

Given its commitment to equal health by 2020, the Alliance is concerned with both the variation among Medicare Local peer groups (so that the most disadvantaged areas can be identified and targeted) as well as with the figures for rural and remote areas overall compared with major cities.

The report also shows for the first time life expectancy at birth by local area. Males can live up to 9.5 years longer in Sydney's North Shore compared to Central and North West Queensland.

Information on the use of specialists, nurses and allied health professionals by Medicare Local is now available on the MyHealthyCommunities website. The NHPA report is at www. nhpa.gov.au

Media Enquiries: 

Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660

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