‘Don’t file it away’: Acting on the National Preventive Health Strategy will mean fewer people get sick

Public Health Association of Australia logo. Text: 'National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030. Preventive Health Strategy: From paper to action.' Vector images of book, and running person.

Melanie Parker, Public Health Association of Australia

Clearly, unless change occurs soon, Australia will soon be facing an overwhelming chronic disease crisis. That warning, was emphasised in a new Grattan Institute report released on 13 February, which noted the concerning effects it will have on our already-strained health system and economy, in addition to individuals’ suffering.

Yet it also remains true that a huge portion of chronic diseases are potentially preventable. If Australian governments of all levels committed to actions resulting in fewer people getting these preventable conditions, people in Australia (and the country) would be much better off.

There are opportunities for the Australian Government to drive change that leads to fewer people getting sick. This is the goal of public health, and is what Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) aims for with its policy and advocacy activities.

We’re calling on the Albanese Government to honour its pre-election commitment to a key policy that, if urgently enacted, would mean, in the long run, fewer people get sick. The Australian Government can make Australia an international leader in preventive health, and set in place a long-lasting legacy for the leaders who enact it.



A bipartisan policy yet to be acted on: National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030

As yet largely left to sit on the shelf, the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030 (NPHS), released by former Minister for Health and Aged Care, Hon Greg Hunt MP in December 2021, is an excellent piece of policy that has the potential to bolster the health of Australia for generations.

Developed by the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care, and supported by an expert steering committee, this landmark document outlines key policies Australia must enact to stop people filling up hospitals and overwhelming the health system with chronic disease.

Ahead of the 2022 Federal election, the Australian Labor Party responded to a PHAA survey, stating that “an Albanese Labor Government would support the implementation of the National Preventative Health Strategy,” making the NPHS a bipartisan policy.

Now that the new federal government has settled in to office, PHAA’s urging them to begin acting on its pre-election promise to support the NPHS. They can begin by publicly announcing how they’ll enact these policies, through current structures of the Department of Health and Aged Care, and the soon-to-be established Australian Centre for Disease Control (ACDC).

The Albanese Government has stated its intention for the ACDC’s scope to include managing both infectious disease (e.g., COVID-19) and chronic disease prevention. However, there’s been little discussion about enacting the National Preventive Health Strategy, and the role the ACDC could play in fulfilling its potential.

For the incumbent Australian Government to leave a legacy on Australia’s health and economic wellbeing, the ACDC’s initial and long-lasting focus must be on rolling out the landmark National Preventive Health Strategy, in addition to the important work on infectious diseases.

If the NPHS is largely left to sit on a shelf, however, Australia will squander a key opportunity to reorient the health system toward stopping people getting sick.


What the NPHS says we need to achieve by 2030

The NPHS contains both policy and health outcome targets. The policy targets cover leadership and governance, prevention in the health system, community engagement, health literacy, and more. Many of these can be attained through the vehicle of a federal ACDC that provides independent, national leadership and guidelines to ensure a consistent approach by Commonwealth, state, and territory governments to public health, and the National Preventive Health Strategy:

“The priorities for preventive health action are informed by a national, independent governance mechanism that is based on evidence, effectiveness and relevance”

“A preventive health governance mechanism supports the monitoring and surveillance of this Strategy”

“Preventive health and health promotion activities in Australia are sustainably funded through an ongoing, long-term prevention fund – rebalancing health action.”

“A national standard approach to govern the creation, access and sharing of data from all Australian governments is established.”

“The public health workforce is ‘future proofed’ through the enhancement of the availability, distribution, capacity and skills of the workforce.”

The proposed ACDC is clearly a key leadership and governance mechanism through which many of the NPHS’ targets could be achieved. But it will need sustained funding to see its effects, which will occur over several years, and generations.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll discuss the many health targets of the NPHS across various sectors, including healthy diet, tobacco and nicotine addiction, alcohol and other drugs, immunisation and more.

These areas are all vital to stopping people getting sick, which is what “public health” is all about.

This is the first of a series on the National Preventive Health Strategy. Subscribe to Intouch for further instalments that explore the Strategy’s key sections.

If you’d like to write a piece about the National Preventive Health Strategy, contact us.

Want to learn more about the Australian Centre for Disease Control (ACDC)? Read the CDC Corner, where authors discuss its potential scope, structure and governance.



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