Australians' health getting better but there is room for improvement

Australians enjoy good health by world standards, but there is scope for further improvement and substantial inequalities remain, according to a new report released by the National Health Performance Committee (NHPC) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The National Report on Health Sector Performance Indicators 2003 is the second report prepared by the NHPC, designed to help policy makers and others understand trends and patterns in health, and to identify areas for action. It examines 44 indicators of performance across the three tiers of the NHPC's National Health Performance Framework - health status and outcomes, determinants of health and health system performance.

The NHPC chair and Director General of the NSW Department of Health, Ms Robyn Kruk, said Australia had performed well over the past few decades, particularly in relation to life expectancy and mortality rates.

'In 1970, Australia's life expectancy was ranked 16th for OECD countries and by 2001 it was third behind Japan and Switzerland and equal with Sweden at 80 years.

'And our mortality rate has fallen 50% in the period 1970 to 1999, which is faster than for every other high income OECD country apart from Japan,' Ms Kruk said.

In general, Australians are living healthier as well as living longer, with significantly lower rates of heart disease, stroke and injury compared with a decade ago. However, diabetes, mental illness and psychological distress are all more common.

There are also still substantial health inequalities in Australia. People living in the most disadvantaged areas have avoidable mortality rates 54% higher than those living in the least disadvantaged areas.

But the starkest health inequalities are between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. Infant mortality for indigenous Australians is twice as high and, for older people, their chances of dying from circulatory disease, diabetes and injuries due to accidents, suicide and assault are much higher than for other Australians.

The report looks at determinants of health - those which have protective benefits, such as fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity, and those that are hazardous to health, such as overweight and obesity and tobacco use. For example, in 2001, 46% of Australians were sufficiently active to achieve a health benefit and 16% of adult Australians were obese.

Health system performance information in the report includes indicators of effectiveness (such as childhood immunisation rates), responsiveness (such as waiting times in emergency departments) and safety (such as adverse events in hospitals.)


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