More beds not the answer to poor health

baumA focus on providing more hospital beds will neither improve the health of Australians nor reduce healthcare costs, according to a leading international health expert.

Professor Fran Baum, Head of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University, said the debate over the Federal Government’s new health plan perpetuated the “downstream” attitude to public health.

“Politicians around the world tend to respond to increasing demand on the health system by advocating more hospital beds,” Professor Baum said.

“But if we are serious about reducing health costs and improving the health of our citizens, we should be focusing on keeping people out of hospital by looking further ‘upstream’,” she said.

“How can we prevent people from needing GPs? Can we provide better care in the community setting? How do we address the immediate risk factors of chronic disease such as obesity and the more underlying causes such as city design and transport options? These are the questions we should be seeking answers to as part of genuine health reform.”

Professor Baum was speaking ahead of the symposium, Beyond Evidence on Reducing Health Inequities: What works, why and how, to be held at the National Wine Centre next week.

It marks the final policy event of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s $2.4 million Australian Health Inequities Program (AHIP), jointly run over five years by Flinders and the University of Melbourne.

“The AHIP has produced excellent research and significantly boosted our capacity to improve population health and understand how factors such as housing and form of employment affect our health. Better health outcomes can really only come from a whole of life and whole of society attitude to wellbeing,” Professor Baum said.

“That means looking at employment, housing, the quality and availability of food – what we refer to as the social determinants of health.

“The Close the Gap campaign to address the disparity between the health of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is a fantastic initiative. But there’s a long way to go and the measures could be applied across all of Australian society to improve our health as a nation.”

The symposium will also examine the South Australian government’s Health in All Policies initiative.

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