14 November 2023

Department of Health and Aged Care releases action plan in response to coming years of 'enormous strains'

| James Day
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Blair Comley

Blair Comley replaced Professor Brendan Murphy AC as the Department of Health and Aged Care Secretary in July, having worked as a director and partner at EY Port Jackson Partners. Photo: EY website.

The Department of Health and Aged Care has released a plan of action detailing its nine priorities in response to its second Capability Review. According to the review’s final report, over the next four years Australia’s healthcare system will face “enormous strains” from eight critical challenges.

The first Capability Review was in 2014 and the program aims to help embed a culture of continuous improvement and ensure the department can deliver on the government’s priorities and outcomes. Leading the review was a team comprising Andrew Tongue PSM, the former head of DAWE’s biosecurity unit, Larry Kamener, founder of Boston Consulting Group’s Public Sector practice, and Dave Hallinan, the Department of Infrastructure’s deputy secretary.

Within the list of challenges is an expected growth in demand for aged care, driven by the country’s ageing population. Workforce shortages across the health industry, especially in primary care and rural settings also present problems. Finding a way to meet the growing costs of hospital care, so that state and territory governments don’t break their budgets, and preparing the department for a future of new technological opportunities, more pandemics, and the increasingly unpredictable environment and economy are additional considerations.

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Secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care Blair Comley said he was honoured to join the agency “at such a pivotal time in its history”, and he looked forward to helping “ensure high quality, viable services centred around people, are available to all Australians”. The former Secretary of Resources and Climate Change broke up the action plan into three core themes: Lifting strategic policy capability, deepening engagement with the community and stakeholders, and unlocking executive leader potential.

As part of the department’s efforts to strengthen its strategic policy capability a forum will be held for senior stuff to collaborate on the agency’s critical initiatives and policies. To help manage the ongoing issues around affordability, productivity and workforce shortages, a chief health economist will be appointed. And in guiding both these tasks, a data strategy is being developed so the department can accurately inform policy, programs and the evaluation of outcomes.

Through the department’s National Consumer Engagement Strategy, a great deal of focus will be placed on improving the partnerships between policymakers and consumers. This will especially be the case for preventive health, to ensure the growing costs of acute care are addressed.

A priority population engagement forum will be held so there’s a direct line to government from established representative organisations such as the CALD Health Advisory Group, the National Women’s Health Advisory Council and the Aged Care Council of Elders. There will also be a Health Design Lab, so that business teams can design human-centred policies, programs and services that deliver frameworks for major design projects.

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“Generally the culture of the department is progressive, supportive and positive,” said Secretary Comley on broadening the potential of the department’s executive leadership. “In order to position the department to meet the challenges of the future we need to ensure that staff are provided with relevant opportunities for development and that decisions are delegated to levels that match complexity and authority.”

To achieve this the department is implementing its workforce strategy so that shortages across disability and other social care systems are met. It is also raising the awareness of and expanding the use of management frameworks and tools, especially for co-ordinating the post-Covid ecosystem of hybrid and dispersed teams.

Progress on the action plan will be detailed in the department’s corporate plan and annual report, which will be available on the Government’s transparency portal.

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