Letters to the Editor || Record health investment || Sharon McGowan, CEO, Stroke Foundation

The Stroke Foundation has welcomed the Federal Government’s 2018 Budget record investment in health (announced on May 9) and called for a targeted focus on support for Australians to avoid and recover from stroke. The Government’s commitment to essential services provided reassurance, but for the Australians who will suffer more than 56,000 strokes this year and their families, more is needed. It was encouraging to see the Government’s continued commitment to improving the health of Australians through funding to our hospitals, Medicare and pharmaceutical benefits systems. These services are at the heart of our health system and all Australians can have confidence in continued access to health care, however it is important to recognise not all access is equal.

Currently, there is no guarantee all Australians will have access to the best practice stroke care we know saves lives and reduces disability. In fact we know many will not. Regional Australians are among those most impacted. Research shows regional Australians were 19 percent more likely to have a stroke than their metropolitan counterparts. Regional Australians are also more likely to die from a stroke or be left with an ongoing disability simply because they do not have access to specialist stroke treatment and care.

This Budget acknowledges current inequalities within the health system, by increasing focus on improving health services for rural and regional Australians. This is an important first step, but I would implore the Government to take them further. There is an enormous opportunity to improve health services for rural and regional Australia by utilising digital health technologies and establishing a national telehealth network. Too many Australians are dying or being left with an ongoing disability as a result of stroke. Patient outcomes vary depending on where you live and your access to time-critical treatment. This needs to change. A national telehealth network will remove geographical barriers and improve access to not only time-critical stroke treatment but diagnosis and treatment of other conditions.

Stroke Foundation also welcomed the Federal Governments $154.3 million dollar budget commitment to support Australians to take up healthier and more active lifestyles and the 45 and 65 year check. There is one stroke in Australia every nine minutes, yet up to 80 percent of strokes could be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Chronic disease is Australia’s biggest health challenge. We must look after ourselves and each other to stay out of hospital, this plan will provide people with some of the tools to do so. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and managing blood pressure will go a long way to preventing stroke and reducing the associated spiraling costs to the health system and economy. It is exciting to see the Government build on its investment in research.

Australia is home to some of the world’s leading research minds. Research takes time and money. This funding will give our researchers the time and support they need to deliver the next breakthroughs which will benefit Australians for generations to come. I look forward to continuing to work with the Government to deliver Australian families much needed guarantees.

Sharon McGowan,

CEO, Stroke Foundation