12 January 2022

National Primary Healthcare Standards

The ACA contributed a submission to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s (the Commission) National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards. Launched by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, The Hon Greg Hunt MP, these new standards aim to protect Australians from harm and improve the quality of health care that people receive in these settings.

The new standards provide a framework that can be applied to a broad range of healthcare services such as dental practices and allied health services such as chiropractic care. The primary healthcare sector is a significant part of Australia’s healthcare industry, accounting for more than one-third (34%) or $63.4 billion of Australia’s total health expenditure in 2017-18.

Commission Chief Medical Officer, Conjoint Professor Anne Duggan, says the new standards will provide a clear framework for healthcare services across the sector to deliver safe health care. “The National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards will be a game changer for the health sector in Australia, by giving practitioners the tools to be even better,” she said.

In time, Australians will have confidence that when they visit a primary or community healthcare service accredited to the standards, they are receiving safe and high-quality health care – no matter the type of health service they are using or where they access it. Each year, most Australians will visit a primary or community healthcare service in their local area. It is vital that these patients can trust the quality of care they receive and know they will be safe from harm.”

The Primary and Community Healthcare Standards comprise of three key standards: Clinical Governance Standard, Partnering with Consumers Standard and Clinical Safety Standard – each with different elements to be implemented by healthcare services.

The new standards describe elements shared by all safe, high-quality healthcare services. That is, they should be well-managed, ensure that people who use their service will be safe from harm, and enable patients to be partners in their own health care and to know their opinion is valued by the healthcare professional.

“Australia has had nationally consistent standards in hospitals and day procedure services for 10 years. Since then, the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards have led to significant improvements in patient safety. In time, we expect these new standards to lead to improvements in health care provided by primary and community services,” Professor Duggan explains.

The new standards have the support of the Australian Government Chief Allied Health Officer, Dr Anne-Marie Boxall, who has encouraged the sector to find out how to apply the framework to their services.

The National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards are significant for the sector – and will benefit all Australians when they access health care in their local community,” Dr Boxall said.

It is important that people feel safe when they access a healthcare service, that the care patients receive is tailored to their needs, and that they are supported to make informed decisions about their own care.

Now is the time for healthcare services to become familiar with the new standards, ahead of voluntary independent accreditation being introduced next year. Healthcare providers may identify areas that need some attention, while many will find that they are already addressing elements described in the standards.

By implementing these standards, healthcare services will be well positioned to demonstrate to their patients that they are providing safe, high-quality care.”

Dr Boxall added: “I am delighted that these standards are now available to primary and community healthcare services, so that all people accessing care can trust that accredited health services are accountable and striving to improve their practice.”

The Commission is developing comprehensive resources to support healthcare services to implement the new standards and to help consumers understand what the standards will mean for them.

All Australian primary and community healthcare services directly involved in patient care will be encouraged to implement the Primary and Community Healthcare Standards.

From mid-2022, healthcare services will be able to be independently assessed and become accredited to the new standards. Over time, Australians will be able to ask their healthcare service if they are accredited and look for an accreditation certificate or badge at the healthcare service or on their website.

The Primary and Community Healthcare Standards were developed following consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including the Australian Government, state and territory partners, primary and community healthcare services, consumers, peak bodies and interest groups.

They comprise of three individual standards:

  • Clinical Governance Standard – which describes the resources, processes, policies and procedures needed for the delivery of safe, high-quality health care. Risk-management and continuous improvement are central, as well as ensuring the workforce has the right qualifications, knowledge and skills to provide health care.
  • Partnering with Consumers Standard – which describes what should be in place to support patients and consumers to be partners in their own care. This includes being given the information they need in a way they can understand, to make decision about their health care.
  • Clinical Safety Standard – which addresses safety and quality risks commonly encountered in primary and community healthcare services, such as preventing and controlling infections and communicating for safety.

The ACA will be unpacking these standards and how they will impact practices, however at this point in time, they are not regulated to be implemented.

Australia’s Primary Healthcare Ten Year Plan

The Commonwealth Government released the draft plan for a further round of consultation as part of the Government’s commitments under the Long Term National Health Plan. The Consultation Draft of the Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan (the plan) draws on input from consultations with individuals and organisations across the country from late 2019 to mid-2021. The plan represents a high-level response to the recommendations of the Primary Health Reform Steering Group (Steering Group) which has been working since October 2019 on future directions for primary health care reform. Drawing on this extensive engagement process, and diversity of views expressed, the plan synthesises ambitions for primary health care into three broad streams: ‘future focused primary health care’; ‘person-centred primary health care, supported by funding reform’; and ‘integrated care, locally delivered’.

The focus of the plan is on Australia’s primary health care services provided through general practices, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS), community pharmacies, allied health services, mental health services, community health and community nursing services and dental and oral health services. The plan also focuses on the integration of primary health care with hospitals and other parts of the health system, aged care, disability care and social care systems. The actions outlined in the Consultation Draft plan are subject to further decisions by government on detailed policy and financing.

The challenges and opportunities facing Australia’s health system and for primary health care and primary care services within it, have been extensively consulted on and examined over a two year period to October 2021. It uses a framework for optimising health system performance to: improve people’s experience of care;

  • improve people’s experience of care;
  • improve the health of populations;
  • improve the cost-efficiency of the health system; and
  • improve the work life of health care providers.

The objectives of the plan are:

  • access: support equitable access to the best available primary health care services;
  • close the gap: reach parity in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • keep people well: manage health and wellbeing in the community;
  • continuity of care: Support continuity of care across the health care system;
  • integration: Support care system integration and sustainability;
  • future focus: Embrace new technologies and methods; and
  • safety and quality: Support safety and quality improvement.

These aims and objectives are supported by enablers: people – at the centre of care; funding reform; innovation and technology; research and data; workforce; leadership and culture. Over the life of the plan, the ambition is for significant shifts in the way primary health care is delivered and how individuals and communities are engaged.

It is the collective view of the allied health professions of Australia, that there is general disappointment with this plan and how it recognises the role of allied health and a genuine shift to new models of care. The ACA will need to understand the plan further to ensure we contribute to the outcome that ‘More Australians value and experience chiropractic care for their health and wellbeing’.