A forum of leading health professionals, industry leaders and consumer representatives has called for urgent action in preventive health, including the establishment in Western Australia of a dedicated "wellness" unit with a stand-alone budget.
The expert group, including child health expert and former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley, Michele Kosky, Executive Director of the Health Consumers' Council, WA, and a range of other specialists, recommended that the new unit be set up as an arm of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and have a separate budget to that of the Health Department.
It would act as a whole-of-government agency to provide advice about a range of issues that effect health outcomes, including planning, transport, housing and education.
The proposal was one of a range of recommendations to come from the ‘Putting Health First' multi-disciplinary symposium organised by The University of Western Australia's Institute of Advanced Studies in Perth last Friday, 22 August.
It will form a central part of a document which will be sent to the State Government and industry and consumer groups by the IAS.
A key message from the forum was the inadequate attention being given to disease prevention and a disproportionate amount of emphasis on medical treatment.
Professor Stanley, who is director of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, and a Professor in UWA's School of Paediatrics and Child Health, said everyone who became sick wanted good health care but the current system was unsustainable and inhumane. "If you really want to address the issue you have to improve the prevention side rather than just dealing with the crisis," she said. "We're not saying to politicians that you take money away from medical services, but we actually need a separate budget for prevention."
Attempts to improve the health of the poor and disadvantaged had been an abject failure, particularly in Aboriginal people and mental illness, particularly among 15 to 24 year olds, was out of control and needed to be addressed urgently.
Ms Michele Kosky said it was time for politicians to seriously address preventive health, which had suffered from years of neglect.