Primary Health Networks: Maximising the potential

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Alliance attended a recent one-day forum in Melbourne (24 July) on the new Primary Health Networks (PHNs). The National Primary and Community Health Network hosted this event to provide an opportunity for primary and community health practitioners, administrators, government officials, policy professionals, peak bodies, academics, researchers and consumers of primary and community health services to hear about Commonwealth health priorities and the role of PHNs.

Those attending the forum were given a presentation by Commonwealth Department of Health on how PHN objectives were designed to ensure clarity around the role of PHNs in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients (particularly those with poor health outcomes), and improving the coordination of care to ensure patients receive the right care in the right place and the right time.

They were also told that the PHNs will have a strong emphasis on preventative health, chronic disease management, preventable hospitalisations and continuity of care and coordination of care and services. As service commissioners, rather than service providers, PHNs will establish links between health and community services to improve patient’s journeys, clinical and care pathways; coordination of health care centre and services. Identifying groups at risk of poor health outcomes (rural and remote populations, Indigenous Australians and those from low socio-economic groups) will be central to the needs assessment and planning as part of the PHN’s commissioning cycle.

What is commissioning?

Commissioning is a continuous cycle of planning, prioritising, procuring, monitoring and evaluating initiatives to address changes in the market and to promote quality.  Attendees were told that within this operational framework strategies will be established to:

  • address market failure, fragmentation of services and rural/remote health workforce structures and supply eg. through blended roles, multidisciplinary teams; 
  • build collaboration and partnerships to address multimorbidity (caring for patients with multiple conditions); and
  • build relationships - PHNs will work closely with their respective Local Health Networks, State/Territory health departments, peak bodies and Aboriginal Health Services; and
  • utilise the payment of incentives to change behaviour.

Gordon Gregory (CEO of the National Rural Health Alliance) participated in the panel discussions and contributed to deliberations on rural & remote issues regarding: 

  • local engagement and the impact of very large areas for one PHN to cover eg. in Western Australia;
  • market failure/no market where there is a large Fly-in-Fly-Out unstable workforce in remote locations with very large numbers of overseas trained doctors and nurses (FIFO 50,000/week, 26 organisations going into a community to deliver services); and
  • the need to have innovative solutions and strategies for working better with Aboriginal Medical Services and remote communities.