One of the biggest challenges any government faces is balancing short-term budget priorities with long-term, strategic decisions and investment for the future.
In Tasmania, the greatest challenge in managing these two competing interests is in health.
On the one hand, failing to manage the day-to-day carries a high personal risk for patients and an equally high political risk for government.
Emergency Department waiting room overloads combined with ambulance ramping and bed blocks are common headlines because they are real issues for many Tasmanians, who desperately need a responsive health system.
Yet long-term investment in preventative health has the potential to change the lives of future generations of Tasmanians.
What is needed is government with the vision and leadership to prioritise investment in prevention now for a long-term dividend. How does a government find the appropriate balance between these two competing priorities that sit within one health system and the electoral cycle?
It is these questions, challenges and balancing acts that you can be sure occupy the mind of our Health Minister and our Premier. Particularly because the release of the long awaited Healthy Tasmania Five Year Strategic Plan came with high expectations.
Health Minister Michael Ferguson has rightly set an aspirational goal for Tasmania – to be the healthiest population by 2025. We are coming off a very low base, with our population health outcomes some of the worst in the nation on nearly every measure.
The strategic plan provides some important targeted areas that align with the consultation feedback. This includes
- An opportunity for innovative, community driven responses
- Encouraging healthy eating and greater physical activity
- Improving health literacy so Tasmanians can make informed decisions about their health and well-being
- Tackling the twin scourges of obesity and smoking
- A shared responsibility for preventative health across government
To do this, TasCOSS believes we must address the health inequities in Tasmania linked to socio-economic status. Without tackling the social determinants of health and well-being such as housing, education, transport, income, work, social support and food quality, we will never reach our 2025 target.
The opportunity the plan presents is through collaboration and measurable targets that span all government agencies, not just health. The plan provides the foundation for a whole-of-government response and therefore, an opportunity to confront the entrenched issues that many low income Tasmanians feel the health impact of every day.
Providing a framework for all government agencies to ensure they are taking into account the health impacts of their policy decisions is a good first step.
Here is the conundrum for government. It is spending up to $16 million a year on fly-in doctors to address day-to-day, ongoing health challenges. The Healthy Tasmania Strategy has a budget of $6.4 million over four years to focus on prevention.
The key has to be challenging and changing these spending priorities. This would ensure the next generation of Tasmanians are the healthiest in the nation.
Kym Goodes, CEO Tasmanian Council of Social Services