Need for future focus on prevention

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Medibank chief medical officer Dr Linda Swan says Australia has a very good health system but the focus needs to shift to prevention rather than cure.

Dr Swan was speaking in response to the release of a new report card produced by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute.

The report, Australia’s Health Tracker 2019, measures the health of Australians against 13 risk factors for chronic illness.

It shows one-in-two people are now living with a chronic disease. These chronic diseases – such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer – are the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia. More than a third of these deaths could be prevented with lifestyle changes.

According to Dr Swan, the new report shows Australia is not on track to reach the health targets for improvement by 2025.

"In fact, many modifiable health behaviour risks are getting worse. Rates of physical inactivity, overweight and obesity (worryingly in children aged 5-11 years) and high blood pressure have all increased," said Dr Swan.

"As we grapple with these challenges, health and medical research is vital to helping us understand the causes, finding optimal treatments and achieving better outcomes for patients."

Dr Swan said Australia's ageing population, with the number of people aged over 65 to double within the next 40 years, makes it even more important that more is done to prevent and manage chronic disease.

She said the costs associated with chronic disease could "swamp" both the public and private health systems with the imperative to invest more in prevention.

"The fact remains however, that Australia spends approximately 1.3% of the health budget on prevention despite more than 30% of the health cost burden being preventable."