Priorities, the years ahead

By Chris Kane, Executive General Manager Strategy and Engagement

Work is well underway developing WA Primary Health Alliance’s Strategic Plan 2023-26, where we will build on our priorities of the past three years and clearly define our areas of focus for the three ahead.

As the operator of Western Australia’s (WA) three Primary Health Networks (PHN), our work centres around three areas of focus: commissioning of primary health care services, general practice support, and integration across the primary care, acute care, aged care and disability sectors.

We’re very focussed on prioritising the places where community need is the greatest and access is most challenged, but also where there is opportunity for collaboration and innovation. There is work underway around developing a methodology where we define our priority populations and places for our focus in those three core areas of endeavour for PHNs. Concentrating on these priority populations and places will help us to work in those areas, and with those people, where and for whom we can improve health outcomes in the context of the PHN program mandate.

Something we need to be cognisant of in all our work is how demographically diverse the PHN regions across Western Australia are, characterised by high levels of cultural diversity, growing populations, areas of low income, social housing areas with concentrated disadvantage, and significant numbers of humanitarian entrants settling in different catchments.

Health equity continues to be central to the work we do, as is our commitment to tackling the challenges inherent in ensuring improved access to health services in WA’s culturally and geographically varied communities. Alignment to the Quintuple Aim brings health equity in as the lens through which we will undertake our activities.

The generation of maximum value for identified priority populations and places is extremely important to achieving health equity. One of the key things we need to do as an organisation is be very specific in defining what we mean by value, as this will underpin our Strategic Plan.

Cultural competence, for us as an organisation, our commissioned service providers, and WA general practices, is integral to addressing inequity in health care. We’re concentrating on this area of endeavour  and alignment with our Reconciliation Action Plan, Rainbow Tick accreditation and cultural competence frameworks, two of which were recently launched.

We will continue to support general practice to deliver the highest quality patient care, with a particular lens over the coming years on aligning our commissioned services and general practice and creating a strong awareness of our commissioned services within general practice, including clear referral pathways.

There is a strong focus from the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care on joint regional planning, collaborative commissioning, and bilateral agreements between state health departments, Health Service Providers and PHNs. This will see us build on the work we have been doing around partnership protocols with Health Service Providers in WA and bilateral agreements and arrangements that we have on a range of topics with WA Department of Health.  WA is in the minority of jurisdictions where there is no primary care bilateral forum – and this must be remedied.

We have reoriented our approach to stakeholder engagement and partnerships to make sure they are fit for purpose and agile. Partnerships support our commissioning of primary health care services, building capability of primary health care, and the integration of services. They are fundamental to informing the work we do, and we will continue to build on and strengthen those partnership groups over the next three years.

Digital health has the potential to strengthen the health care system, aiding patient care, ensuring better informed treatment decisions, and giving us the knowledge to support continuous improvement and challenge health inequity. We will continue to drive digital health initiatives including Primary Health Insights and Primary Sense, and support general practitioners (GP) and our commissioned service providers in building capacity and capability in this space.

PHNS are to play a key role in addressing workforce shortages and maldistribution and this is particularly reflected in the work we are doing around workforce planning and prioritisation for the distribution of GP registrars across the state.

There is much to be done over the coming years, and we are up for the challenge. We know we cannot be all things to all people, and it is this knowledge that helps us to refine our focus and have the most impact possible.