A wealth of information about the structures, programs and processes of the Department of Health and Ageing has been released in response to FOI requests for the department’s brief to the incoming government.

The four volumes will no doubt prove extremely useful for lobbyists as well as journalists and others seeking to understand health policy, how the department works, and who are the key contacts for the various areas of policy.

The documents set out a schedule of the key decisions facing reappointed health minister Nicola Roxon around health reform, as well as around appointments to bodies such as PBAC and NHMRC (although some matters have been superseded by subsequent events).

It’s interesting to see how often the documents refer to concerns about policy being raised by stakeholders and the media. Indeed, it sometimes seems that more weight is put on “stakeholder concerns” than on assessing the public interest implications of policy.

A few points that may be of interest:

Mental health reform

The documents state that “mental health reform and investment will continue to be a significant pressure point”.

They say that the Department’s Health Reform implementation group agreed to establish a sub group on mental health to consider the timeline and options for the 2011 mental health comeback to COAG and that “two other complementary and foundation processes” are also under way.

A group of APS deputy secretaries and the chief medical officer has been formed to develop strategic advice on and options for reform, looking at evidence/data, areas of success and failure, and opportunities emerging from the broader health and social policy context. The group will develop a whole of government position for consideration by the Australian government to inform negotiations with states. As well, AHMAC has also commissioned scoping and analysis work to inform the HRIG sub-group.

AstraZeneca’s legal action

The documents include a brief on AstraZeneca’s legal action against the minister and PBAC members, over moves to reduce spending on statin drugs. Clayton Utz, which is acting for AstraZeneca on this case, has also filed an FOI request on related issues.

Grants strife

More than 180 of the recipients of funds through the Healthy Active Australia Community and Schools Grants program have failed to provide sufficient financial documentation, and have been issued with warnings.

Pan action

March 7, 2011 is the date set down for a Federal Court hearing for a damages suit against the Australian government and five former and current members of TGA as a result of regulatory action taken against Pan Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd in 2003.

Pending reviews

Reference was made to several reviews that may not yet have been released including:

  • a review of pharmacy location rules by Urbis. The public release requires agreement of  the Pharmacy Guild and Minister.
  • evaluations of the fourth community pharmacy agreement from 2005 to 2010 have been conducted.
  • an independent review of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care was undertaken in September 2009. We know it recommended the commission should be made permanent but it’s not clear whether the review has been fully released.
  • a review of the Better Access Program is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

And some trivia …

It was apparently felt to be worth noting that public servants have been major applicants for jobs at Health Workforce Australia …

But have a look for yourself.  There is a wealth of material to peruse, and hopefully it should help inform better understanding of policy processes as well as the sheer complexity of the portfolio.

Hats off to those who took the decision to release the documents more widely …

PostScript: I  also meant to say: There was a striking lack of reference to the widespread concerns that have been raised around the equity and cost of private health insurance incentives.  If there was a mention, I missed it …

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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