Good health is important – it influences not just how we feel, but also how we go about our everyday lives. Health can mean different things to different people but is widely accepted to be much more than the presence or absence of disease.

Life expectancy in Australia has increased substantially since the start of the 20th century. Over the last 100 years, deaths from infectious diseases have declined, while deaths from chronic conditions, such as cancers and dementia, have increased. Despite this, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2022, making it the first time in over 50 years that an infectious disease has been in the top 5 leading causes of death in Australia. Today, chronic conditions are an ongoing cause of substantial ill health, disability and premature death in Australia.

There are many factors or ‘determinants’ that influence health. There is a close relationship between people’s health and the circumstances in which they grow, live, work, play and age. Health determinants include general socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions; living and working conditions; social and community networks; and individual health factors. Factors influencing health may be risk or protective factors, and they interact to influence the health of individuals and communities and can also impact on our access to and use of health care. In 2018, over one-third of disease burden was potentially preventable – that is, it could have been prevented had Australians reduced or avoided exposure to certain risk factors.

Every day, many Australians come into contact with the health system. It may be through a school-based vaccination, a visit with a general practitioner (GP), picking up a prescription at the pharmacy, or a more complex interaction, such as being admitted to hospital for surgery. A key role of the health system is to respond to individual needs by providing safe, effective, accessible and appropriate treatment and other services.

Most health services are funded by the Australian or state and territory governments, with the majority of health services provided by privately owned businesses such as GP surgeries, specialist clinics, pharmacies, dental clinics and private hospitals. Services are delivered and supported by a range of health professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, allied health professionals, and administrative staff.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Australians use health services. During the pandemic, some services were suspended or access restricted, some services changed, people who work in health services had additional burden and extra demands were put on hospitals when COVID-19 admissions were higher.