A healthcare system is essential for promoting the health and wellbeing of the population. Whether WA’s health care system is placed to do so is the central question of this third report in BCEC’s Focus on Industry series.
WA’s health sector is growing rapidly, contributing more to the state’s economy in value terms than at any point in its history. Industry GVA for the health and social assistance sector now ranks third across all sectors in WA behind mining and construction. It accounts for an increasingly high share of the State’s employment. This growth notwithstanding, the healthcare industry’s capacity to effectively promote the health and wellbeing of WA’s population remains constrained in several important ways.
Paramount among the issues Australia’s healthcare system faces is the failure to make progress towards bridging the Indigenous-non-Indigenous gaps in health behaviours and outcomes. Access to healthcare is unevenly distributed across our localities, and WA’s remote locations are particularly disadvantaged. The report highlights the constraints around accessing GP services in particular, and suggests that there may be some substitution of primary care services for hospital care as a result.
Our findings also suggest that very little is spent on preventative health initiatives in WA while returns to such investment might be potentially high. Many commonly faced health conditions could be prevented, yet these continue to place pressure on our health system. Unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, including dangerous alcohol consumption, remain widespread in WA, particularly among its indigenous population.
This report also asks whether Australia’s aged care system is placed to ensure the health and wellbeing of its ageing population. We show that current funding is not keeping pace with the demands of the ageing population, resulting in decreases in the number of operational places per capita and increases in waiting times for places over the past years. Additionally, we provide suggestive evidence that personal care workers in residential aged care facilities are being used as substitutes for enrolled nurses; if so this threatens the quality of the services provided by aged care services as well as having negative repercussions for the aged care workforce itself.
To effectively strengthen health systems, the health workforce is of key importance. Our analysis shows that our health workforce is growing rapidly in size, and health sector workers are increasingly more educated – a fact that may contribute towards delivery of higher quality services in the future. However, our analysis also points out at a decrease in the share of very satisfied health workers, and highlights the signs of emerging poor health and psychological distress among them, which may adversely affect the delivery of healthcare services.
Mobile health technologies have great potential to mitigate some of the disadvantage in accessing health services faced by the residents of remote areas in WA. We show that there has been a significant increase in emergency telehealth service consultation in the past 5 years. A vibrant health innovation system, however, requires investment, yet our findings point to under-investment in research in WA relative to comparable jurisdictions in Australia.