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Australian Government Health Initiatives

What are health initiatives? Find out how you and your family can benefit from these government initiatives.

Public health initiatives are programs and campaigns initiated by the Australian government to help prevent and provide support for health problems in our community. They focus on populations rather than individuals and are monitored and adjusted to ensure maximum effectiveness, and discontinued if they fail to meet their goals.

Examples of prominent Australian Government health initiatives include:

  • The range of activities initiated by the Office of Health Protection (OHP) to help reduce the incidence of communicable disease through the National Framework for Communicable Disease Control.
  • Strategies to ensure that population needs for medical services are being met via the Districts of Workforce Shortage (DWS) initiative.

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What do health initiatives do?

Health initiatives focus on key areas where health problems exist in our community and either initiate or fund a range of measures to tackle these problems in the most effective ways. The following are some of the main health problems facing Australia today and some Government initiatives that are responding to them.

Alcohol, drugs and tobacco

  • The FASD Action Plan. Research and education regarding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders resulting from drinking during pregnancy.
  • Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. A range of measures by the NHMRC to promote responsible consumption of alcohol.
  • The Good Sports Programme. Funding for programs aimed at changing attitudes to alcohol through partnerships with sporting clubs.
  • The Substance Misuse Service Delivery Grants Fund. A flexible funding pool for services treating substance misuse.
  • The Non-Government Organisation Treatment Grants Program. Funds non-government drug treatment services to improve treatment for those with drug problems.
  • Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs). Funding to increase education, counselling and referral services and the accessibility of NSPs through pharmacies and other outlets.
  • The National Tobacco Strategy. A series of measures in place to reduce the health and social costs caused by tobacco, encompassing advertising, regulation and taxation.

Mental health and suicide prevention

  • LIFE Communications. A website funded by the Department of Health to improve access to suicide and self-harm prevention activities in Australia.
  • Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHIMA). A project initiated by Mental Health Australia to provide support for providers of mental health and suicide prevention to people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.
  • The Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI). A national initiative funded by the Australian Government to promote better mental health outcomes for children of parents with a mental illness.

Health workforce and access to medical professionals

  • The General Practice Rural Incentives Program. A program aimed at encouraging GPs to practise in regional and remote communities and promoting careers in rural medicine.
  • Commonwealth Medical Internships (CMIs). An initiative aimed at increasing Australia’s capacity to train medical interns in alternative settings, such as private hospitals and in rural and regional Australia.
  • Bonded Medical Places (BMP) Scheme. A scheme where a percentage of all first year Commonwealth Supported Places in medical schools are allocated to areas with doctor shortages.

Education and information

    • Kids Matter. An Australian primary schools mental health initiative that provides schools with the tools to improve social and emotional learning, to work with parents and carers and to provide support for students with mental health difficulties.
    • The Regulator Performance Framework. A government framework that provides a set of performance measures for increased accountability and greater transparency.

Examples of health initiatives that succeeded and failed

Not all government initiatives have successful outcomes. The initial concept behind an initiative may turn out to be flawed or circumstances may change over time to the point where it is no longer effective. Below are two examples of government initiatives; one that had to be scrapped, and its successor, which is expected to produce much more effective results.

  • The Health Star Rating System

This led to a new government initiative targeting people’s health and lifestyle choices at the point where personal change can be more effectively influenced: the supermarket. A collaborative effort with food industry, health and consumer groups to be rolled out in the coming years, The Health Star Rating System is a labelling system of between one and five stars that allows consumers to compare at a glance the nutritional profiles of packaged foods.

It will vastly improve the current method of comparing nutritional information, which is both confusing and time-consuming. It will also put the choice right in the hands of the consumer and make it easier for them to make a healthier choice in what they eat, without being confronted or coerced by their GP. It’s a great example of what public health initiatives may look like in daily life and you can expect to see health stars everywhere in the not-too-distant future.

  • Lifescripts

This program provided a “script” to doctors so that they could discuss health issues more effectively with their patients. It was designed to give them evidence-based tools and skills that they could use to encourage patients to talk about their lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease and to help override their objections.

The reason it was discontinued was because the concept behind it was found to be flawed. It was designed to overcome what was perceived as a lack of time and persistence on the part of GPs to get their patients to discuss sensitive health issues. But when it failed to achieve the desired results, it was realised that the problem was actually patient resistance to making healthier lifestyle adjustments; something that no “script” could overcome.

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