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Abbott's failures on preventive health.

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Shadow Minister for Health 3 July 2006


A New Zealand study suggests that as many as one-third of all hospital visits are preventable, with the potential for huge savings to the health budgets of governments and individuals. A second study out today says that every hour at least five Australian men die from potentially preventable conditions.

Unfortunately the Health Minister Tony Abbott has no idea how to effectively address the prevention agenda.

The obesity crisis is ignored - he sees no role for Government and there was no funding for childhood obesity in the last Budget.

Expert recommendations to make cholesterol lowering drugs more widely available through the PBS to people with diabetes at risk of heart disease have been lying on the Minister’s desk for two years.

The roll-out of the national bowel cancer screening program has been delayed and instead of a full screening program, it is now reduced to a faecal blood test for people aged 55 years and 65 years. If the test is positive, indicating a risk for bowel cancer, then you are on your own in terms of getting quick access to a colonoscopy.

And the Minister hypes the yet-to-be implemented Well Person’s Check-up as an example of the Howard’s Government’s actions on preventive health.

In fact, this particular initiative, with all its failings, is pretty indicative of the level of commitment the Howard Government has to preventive health care. First talked about in February, it will not be implemented until November, and it is only available once to people

aged between 43 and 47 years of age who have at least one recognised health risk factor -- and then only of that person walks through the door of the doctor’s surgery and the doctor offers it.

Such an approach fails to recognise that good health has its basis in childhood, that increasing out-of-pocket costs mean too many people now visit the doctor only when they are sick, and that targeting a single age group means that many who might benefit are excluded. It does nothing to get those men who ignore their health inside the doctor’s surgery.

Moreover, at a time when the Health Minister is being told to address cost blow-outs in radiology and pathology, can we be sure the Minister understands that a new Medicare item for preventive health checks will have additional costs elsewhere in the health budget and that he won’t pull back from these, leaving patients even further out of pocket?

The Minister’s usual short-term bandaid approach doesn’t work when it comes to preventive health, where a bit of vision and a long-term strategy and investment are needed. The pay-off is a more sustainable health care system and better quality of life for patients. But Tony Abbott has missed the point again.

3 July 2006

Lesley Russell 0417 017 427