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Sunday / June 23.
HomemifeatureQ&A with Health Minister, the Hon. Nicola Roxon

Q&A with Health Minister, the Hon. Nicola Roxon

mivision put a number of questions on the Federal Government’s attitude and policy towards eye health and eye care to the Minister for Health, The Hon. Nicola Roxon. The Minister was kind enough to respond in some detail to our questions.

The Government’s Eye Health Agenda

Q: Last year you said eye care would feature prominently in the preventative health care agenda of the Rudd Government. Eye care seems not to have been mentioned in the Primary Care Strategy paper or the NHHRS report (National Health and Hospital’s Reforms Commission Report). Are you willing to say that it will not be overlooked in the Governments response to those reviews?

A: There has been considerable progress in the Government’s health reform agenda.

On 27 July 2009, the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission released their Final Report: A Healthier Future for All Australians, providing a long term, comprehensive view and options for health care reform.

On 31 August 2009, the Prime Minister, The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP and I launched the Draft National Primary Health Care Strategy: Building a 21st Century Primary Health Care System and supporting Report: Primary Health Care Reform in Australia. The Draft National Primary Health Care Strategy is a high level document that provides a draft road map to guide future policy and practice in primary health care in Australia.

As an important part of our health system, optometrists will play a role in this reform – whether it’s in prevention, frontline care or indigenous health.

The Preventative Health Taskforce also released the National Preventative Health Strategy on 1 September 2009, focusing on the preventable risk factors of obesity, tobacco use and the harmful consumption of alcohol.

The three reports did not focus on the roles of specific professions, rather, the overall reform of the health system. As an important part of our health system, optometrists will play a role in this reform – whether it’s in prevention, frontline care or indigenous health.

The Government is using the recommendations of the Commission’s report, together with the other reform proposals, as the basis for a series of community and stakeholder consultations to engage the community in discussions on the health reform agenda. The consultation process is underway and will continue through until the end of the year.

The Government has also launched a public communications website -www.yourhealth.gov.au – to support the consultation and provide an avenue for communication. The website contains information about the consultation process and copies of the reform documents.

The Government’s response to the commission’s report and any implementation of the other reform proposals will not finalised until after the communication process is complete.

All Australians are therefore encouraged to visit the ‘yourhealth’ website, to keep abreast of the latest developments in the health reform agenda and engage in the conversation about health reform.

The National Eye Health Initiative

Q: We are coming to the end of the first four years of the National Eye Health Initiative. Are you happy with what has been done so far? Where do you see it going next?

A: The implementation of the National Eye Health Initiative has successfully delivered against all five key areas for action under the National Eye Health Framework. There has been a review of eye health data and the production of a series of national reports providing an overview of eye health in Australia: clinical guidelines for the management of glaucoma have been commissioned, 25 demonstration grants to identify, trial and evaluate strategies to improve the delivery, access and quality of eye health care are being implemented, and the eye health campaign commenced in May 2009.

In addition the Commonwealth, States and Territories have collaborated to produce the first progress report against the National Eye Health Framework.

The next steps will be to continue to build on this work and evaluate outcomes across the activities to inform future activities – all of which will work towards prevention of avoidable blindness and vision loss.

Health Kids Check

Q: Last year you said you would have liked to see vision checks included in the Health Kids Check, but noted doubts about the evidence based for screening. Do you think comprehensive eye examinations by an ophthalmologist or optometrist might be an alternative to screening?

A: GPs, with the support of practice nurses, are best placed to undertake the Healthy Kids Check: a basic health assessment that will include height, weight, eyesight and hearing assessments. The tests that are offered are of a kind that can be provided in a general practice setting by suitably qualified medical and health professionals (general practitioners and practice nurses) who are appropriately trained but do not have specialist qualifications.

The objective of the Healthy Kids Check is to ensure that every four year old child in Australia has a basic health check to see if they are healthy, fit and ready to learn when they start school. The majority of follow-up services after a Healthy Kids Check has been undertaken are provided by the medical and health professional who undertook the check. However, it is a requirement of the check that if any problems are identified that require specialist treatment, appropriate referrals must be made wherever clinically necessary, including to optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Rural Eye Health

Q: There are continuing complaints about shortages of health professionals outside the major cities. Do you think there is a case for extending the sort of rural retention programs the government has for GPs to optometrists to encourage optometrists to continue working in rural areas?

A: Optometrists working in rural and remote areas have been supported for a number of years through Australian Government scholarships for continuing professional development activities such as conferences, short courses, clinical placements and formal postgraduate study. This support has enabled optometrists and other allied health professionals to update and maintain the currency of their skills, reducing professional isolation and encouraging them to continue providing services in their rural or remote community.

These scholarships have now been incorporated into the new Nursing and Allied Health Scholarship and Support Scheme announced in the 2009 to 2010 Budget. Support for undergraduate and postgraduate study, clinical placements and professional development activities will continue to be offered through this new scheme for a range of professions, including optometry. There will continue to be a rural focus to this scheme.

National Registration

Q: Do you think the national registration and accreditation project can survive the arrival of one, or perhaps two, non-labour governments at COAG?

A: On 26 March 2008, Council of Australian Governments signed the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for a National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for Health Professions (the Scheme). The IGA provides that the Scheme is to be operational by 1 July 2010.

At their meeting on 5 March 2009, Health Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the Scheme reflecting the principles set out in the IGA and Members of the Ministerial Council noted substantial progress had been made in developing the Scheme.