COVID responses point the way to a better health system say health policy researchers

Thursday, June 4, 2020

‘The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that our health system should be patient-focused, agile, responsive and sustainable at any given time’, says Dr Sonĵ Hall, Editor-in-Chief of Australian Health Review (AHR), the academic journal of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.

‘We’ve seen what can be achieved by putting the health needs of the community at the heart of decision-making, rather than sectoral interests. And we’ve seen that this happens much more easily when there is cross-sector collaboration and a deliberate will to bring new solutions to old problems.’

In the June issue of AHR published today Professor Stephen Duckett (Grattan Institute) reflects on governance lessons from COVID-19. Australia’s health system was transformed as new ways of working were implemented with unbelievable speed between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, because business as normal would have led to hospitals being overwhelmed by mid-April.   

Professor Duckett states that the division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and states in healthcare has been debated for decades with no real change. Can lessons from the pandemic provide a much-needed stimulus?

In a second perspective, Medical Technology of Australia CEO Ian Burgess reflects on how extraordinary collaboration between government and the medical technology industry brought together a diverse consortium—many of whom would normally be competitors—to produce 2,000 invasive ventilators for the national stockpile by July 2020.

‘This demonstrates an untapped potential… a potential we may never have realised without the unprecedented threat of a global pandemic’, Mr Burgess says.

In a third perspective, leading health economists Professors Nancy Devlin and Paul Scuffham argue that Australia is putting itself at a disadvantage compared with other nations in terms of its future health. In assessing value-for-money in healthcare, Australia discounts future benefits over current benefits to a much greater extent than other countries. Typically, preventive health policies, where the benefits are seen in the future, are not accorded as much value in Australia as elsewhere.

In a letter to the editor, a WA–Victoria expert author team advocates greater production and use of re-usable anaesthesia equipment in Australia to reduce current over-reliance on single-use personal protective equipment. Weaknesses in global supply of single-use equipment have been readily apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to these perspectives, there is a special focus on healthcare affordability in the June AHR, Dr Hall says.

‘For example, Professor Farhat Yusuf and Emeritus Professor Stephen Leeder (University of Sydney) use ABS consumer data to show that out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare rose by an average of 25% between 2009–10 and 2015–16. Private health insurance costs rose by 51% and co-payments to specialists rose by 35%.

‘Another article critically assesses out-of-pocket cost calculators made available by three private health insurance companies. Another looks at widely differing out-of-pocket cost experiences of a group of WA cancer patients. There are also 18 other articles in this month’s bumper edition’, Dr Hall says.

The June 2020 edition of Australian Health Review can be accessed here. More information on AHHA is available at

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.


Media enquiries: Dr Sonĵ Hall, Editor in Chief, Australian Health Review 0427 613 587