25 March 2020
Arthritis action plan stuck in the slow lane
March 2019 saw the launch of the National Strategic Action Plan for Arthritis. The plan was developed by Arthritis Australia for the federal Department of Health with input from consumer and medical groups across Australia.
The plan outlines key priorities for preventing arthritis, investing in research and improving treatment and support for people living with the condition in its many forms. It is designed to provide an evidence-based blueprint to guide national efforts by stakeholders across all levels and sectors of the health system, to improve arthritis outcomes.
The launch of the plan was received with great expectations by the musculoskeletal health community that rheumatic conditions would finally start to be given the priority they deserved in health policy, programs and funding. However, funding commitments to date have been limited.
In April, Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced $4 million would be provided for consumer information, education and support, and health professional education, as an initial contribution towards the implementation of the plan. While this sum is modest relative to the cost and burden of arthritis, Arthritis Australia welcomed the investment as an important first step, while highlighting the importance of making further commitments to implement the plan’s recommendations.
Arthritis Australia has continued to advocate for further funding for the plan, including for arthritis research, but our proposals have yet to gain any traction.
In addition, the wheels of government move slowly and the initial $4 million announced by the minister has yet to be released. Applications for the funding grants were only invited at the end of October last year, and the outcomes have yet to be announced.
It appears that the recent community sports funding grants issues has required an extra layer of scrutiny to be placed on all government grant allocations.
Nonetheless, we are hoping an announcement is imminent as significant upfront and ongoing investment is required to implement the actions set out within this plan.
The real challenge now is two-fold.
Firstly, it will be important to develop “turnkey” funding proposals for the government to consider. These proposals need to be aligned with the plan’s recommendations and will ideally feature collaborative partnerships. Arthritis Australia is keen to work with stakeholders to support the development of proposals to bring forward to the government. We are also planning to convene an Action Plan implementation committee to help drive this process.
Secondly, it is important for all stakeholders to step up and do more to see the promise of the plan realised. Too many politicians and policymakers continue to underestimate the burden and cost of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, despite compelling statistics. In addition, it is a crowded policy and funding arena. Our action plan was only one of nearly a dozen different plans addressing a range of health conditions and there are many competing funding priorities, both within the health portfolio and across government portfolios.
Arthritis Australia is continuing to advocate for significant and ongoing investment to implement the plan, but all stakeholders need to get involved and make some noise. Write to the health minister, the treasurer and the prime minister, contact your local MPs at both state and federal levels to help them understand the burden and cost of these conditions and the solutions that need to be implemented.
We all need to speak up or arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions will continue to be severely under-resourced and given low priority in policy and funding decisions.
Andrew Mills is CEO of Arthritis Australia