Department faces ‘critical challenges’ ahead

There will be “enormous strains” across Australia’s health and aged care systems over the immediate future, reports a government body.

There will be “enormous strains” across Australia’s health and aged care systems over the immediate future, reports a government body.

In a capability review of the Department of Health and Aged Care, the Australian Public Service Commission – established to ensure the country’s public services meet the demands and expectations of the federal government and the Australian people ­– finds that over the next four years and beyond there will be a number of challenges facing the health and aged care sectors.

Among the most critical challenges the APSC identifies:

  • meeting the ageing population’s growing demand for aged care
  • delivering on the recommendations of the aged care royal commission
  • ensuring the department is “battle ready” for the next pandemic
  • workforce shortages.

To address the challenges, “significant reform is needed across the health and aged care sectors,” say the report’s authors. “Such reform will not be possible without collaboration between the Australian, state and territory governments,” they add.

The department – which employs 5,800 people – will need to lead the discussions about the detail of that reform, say the report’s authors, and take a lead in providing a “direction of travel”.

So far, broad “whole-of-system reform initiatives” have been limited, say the authors of the 66-page capability review.

However, stakeholders from inside the government and outside told the APSC that the department, which was last reviewed in 2014, has not been “consistently playing a leading role” for many years.

“There is a lack of capability in integrated policy development addressing the interactions between the various parts of the health and aged care systems,” say the authors.

While acknowledging the department is in the process of implementing major reforms – including delivering the recommendations of the aged care royal commission – the authors say “more work is needed to integrate policy and on-the-ground delivery of these important commitments.”

Addressing the department’s handling of the Covid outbreak, the authors say “there are important lessons from this experience about what has worked well, what hasn’t worked well, and what should be done differently to be ready for the next pandemic.”

However, the authors note “there does not appear to have been any comprehensive review of lessons learned.” The APSC recommends that – in order to tackle future infectious outbreaks that could be possibly worse than Covid – a thorough review of the department’s coronavirus response occurs within the next 12 months.

Challenging last few years

Professor Brendan Murphy

Responding to the APSC’s review, then department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy acknowledged the last few years “have been both challenging and rewarding for the department.”

But, he added, the department has had to deal with far more than the pandemic. “We are implementing the biggest aged care reform in Australia’s history,” said Professor Murphy, who retired as secretary in July.

“The department now has the opportunity to consider the government’s ambitious reform agenda and closely examine how to integrate policy and delivery in acute care, primary care and aged care systems, and carer systems more broadly,” he said in the report.

In conclusion, Professor Murphy said: “The department looks forward to working with government to implement actions to address the major findings in the capability review … The department is in a strong position and addressing the findings of this review will only make it stronger.”

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Tags: Australian Public Service Commission, capability review, Department of Health & Aged Care, featured, professor brendan murphy,

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