Carol Bennett, Chief Executive of the Consumers Health Forum, writes:

If not much happened in health reform in 2010 – as some observers claim – we at the Consumers Health Forum must have been putting a lot of effort into nothing.

A quick check of the records shows that we put forward submissions and subsequently gave evidence to seven Senate Committees of Enquiry.

That is on top of more than 20 public consultations CHF conducted across a range of health subjects including pathology, quality use of medicines, the health reform package and the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS).

Drawing breath after a very busy year, it is worth reflecting on what has been achieved, rather than just the seemingly endless talking and submissions.

CHF has welcomed the deal between the Government and Medicines Australia that will bring savings of $1.9 billion over four years, drive down the prices of some medicines and speed up the approval process for others.

We have given a qualified welcome to the 5th Community Pharmacy Agreement, but we will keep a close eye on the Patient Service Charter part of agreement to ensure that it delivers what is promised.  We will continue to argue that these multi-billion dollar agreements need to be publicly measurable and accountable and should be open to all stakeholders, particularly the consumer.

Consistent with our strong advocacy of making the health system more flexible and accessible, we certainly welcomed the establishment of Primary Health Care Organisations (PHCOs) in the expectation that they will take pressure off our over-stretched hospital system.

We strongly supported the introduction of Universal Health Identifiers (UHI’s) as a necessary step towards a long-overdue and necessary electronic health system and personally controlled electronic health records in 2012.

And we most certainly welcome the action by the government to genuinely engage with health consumers in the development and implementation of health reforms. Without this – and indeed more of it – the Government’s health reform package will not achieve its stated aim of a better health system for all Australians.

In this coming year, 2011, consumers get the opportunity to engage with the reform process though the CHF’s four stage project, Our Health, Our Community which will provide the training and support that has been lacking in consumer engagement to date.

By the end of the year, we will have a much clear view of whether the reform is starting to deliver its anticipated promise.

• This article was first published in today’s Crikey bulletin

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Peter Fray
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