Health gap widens as politicians continue to ignore Senate report

A report that found billions of dollars could be saved annually if recommendations from a tripartisan Senate Inquiry were implemented has failed to spark politicians into action on the social determinants of health.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Senate Community Affairs Committee tabling its report following an Inquiry into Australia's efforts to address health inequity and the social determinants of health. There has been no official response to the report from either major party.

"We remain grateful for the considered and forward-thinking report that the Senate Committee – representing Coalition, Labor and Greens Senators – tabled 12 months ago, but our frustration at the lack of action is mounting," Catholic Health Australia CEO Martin Laverty said.

"Reports seem to emerge every couple of weeks pointing to unacceptable variances in people's health based on their socioeconomic status or their ethnicity or where they live or their education level. These reports – like last year's Senate report – aren't not prompting action from federal politicians."

Mr Laverty said Catholic Health Australia has been advocating for action on the social determinants of health for more than five years. A number of policy papers, a pair of reports in conjunction with the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) and the publication of a book bringing together Australia's leading thinkers on health inequity have been part of CHA's efforts.

"One of the NATSEM reports found that $2.3 billion in savings could be found annually through avoidable hospital admissions if Australian Governments were to implement the findings of the World Health Organisation's Closing the Gap in a Generation report. Those are the same recommendations that the Senate Committee said the Parliament should endorse."

The NATSEM report The Cost of Inaction on the Social Determinants of Health also found implementing the WHO recommendations could see: • 500,000 Australians avoid suffering a chronic illness; • 170,000 extra Australians enter the workforce, generating $8 billion in extra earnings; • $4 billion in welfare support payments saved each year; • 5.5 million fewer Medicare services utilised each year, resulting in annual savings of $273 million; • 5.3 million fewer Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme scripts being filled each year, resulting in annual savings of $184.5 million.

Mr Laverty said a resolution passed in the House of Representatives in 2010 compelled the sitting Government to respond to a Senate committee's report with six months.

"Labor can point to the federal election – held within six months of the report being tabled – and the Coalition can point to the fact the report was tabled during the last Parliament, but we are becoming increasingly impatient with politicians who aren't addressing the causes of poor health."

Mr Laverty said with the one-year anniversary of the Senate report falling on Close the Gap day, there should be an even sharper focus on the issue of health inequity because some of the widest health gaps that exist in this country are between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.

"Isn't 12 months of increasing inequity more than enough? It's time for action," he said.

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