The Science Party wants all people to experience the great wonders that the future will hold for us. To make sure this happens, we need to ensure that our minds and bodies are kept in the best possible condition. An efficient, well-resourced and intelligent public health system is an essential part of achieving this for every person.
The early death of any individual is a tragic waste. The longer a person is alive and healthy, the more they can enjoy life, and the more time they have to spend on their favourite pursuits and to share with their loved ones.
The Science Party believes that the improvement in quality of life and extension of life of individuals will ultimately pay for itself, as those who live longer will have more productive working lives, which in turn allows more time and money to be spent in developing their knowledge and skills. A healthier population means greater progress for society as a whole, allowing the individual to enjoy a longer life while also contributing to society for a longer period.
The Science Party believes that the following policies should be a focus of reforms made to the health system by the federal government.
1. Universal health care
1.1. Policy: The Science Party supports further investment in Medicare as a universal health care scheme for all Australians.
1.2. Discussion: One of the Science Party's principles is that quality health care should be afforded to all people, regardless of whether they have the ability to pay up-front. The Australian system is currently a hybrid system of private and public health care; one of several models in use around the world. Our system delivers good outcomes to patients at a cost (as a percentage of GDP) comparable to most developed nations. Any changes to this system should be the result of a review that aims to improve the system; not an attempt to shave short-term costs from primary points of care without regard to the long-term consequences.
1.3. Policy: The Science Party supports the addition of non-aesthetic, basic dental care to the Medicare scheme.
1.4 Discussion: Dental care is an important component of health care. The pain of an ongoing dental problem affects the lifestyle choices, dietary choices and overall wellbeing of the sufferer, and like many conditions becomes more costly to treat with time. However, Medicare currently only covers dental care in a few circumstances. Dental care is already covered for some children and some concession card-holders on a state-by-state basis. The Science Party supports a review of the various dental cover schemes in place to determine the most efficient way that basic dental care can be incorporated into the national public scheme.
2. Aging to be treated as a disease
The Science Party believes that aging, although a natural process, does not have to be inevitable.
Infectious and degenerative diseases are natural processes too, and we have successfully eliminated or reduced the burden of many of them. Maternal and infant mortality have decreased dramatically, and once-common causes of death like many infectious diseases are now far less common and rarely fatal, thanks to medical science’s determination to end unnecessary suffering and death. The Science Party is committed to preserving the lives of all people in a way that maximises happy, healthy living (or healthspan). The Science Party intends to prioritise diseases that have a high mortality rate and/or a high impact on quality of life.
Potential scientific approaches include the detailed understanding of individual genetic variation combined with stem-cell therapies. A greater understanding of aging has the potential not just to extend life, but to create an associated benefit of making life healthier and more productive. The outcome will be a net economic gain, as money will be saved by preventing disease rather than treating it, and by allowing people to be employed to an older age if they choose to be.
3. Preventative health care
3.1. Policy: The Science Party believes that preventative health care should be a core focus of the health care system, and that all laws, policy and funding should be considered in the light of preventative health care.
3.2. Discussion: Preventative health care has a long history of reducing illness in the community. Vaccines have eliminated or almost eliminate great numbers of diseases that used to be quite common. Reductions in consumption of mortality inducing substances such as cigarettes and alcohol has resulted in massive decreases in deaths due to the use of these substances. By aiding people to maintain healthy lifestyles and providing care that prevents easily treatable conditions from turning into hard to treat conditions, we both improve the quality of life of the individual and reduce overall expense to the taxpayer.
4. Electronic health records
4.1. Policy: Electronic health records should be promoted more strongly, and the system for signing up to the records must be simplified. All doctors receiving Medicare payments will be required to ask the patient if they would like to join the electronic health record system (if they haven’t been asked already), such that patients are aware of this system and its benefits. A record with Medicare must be made with the response of the patient (whether the patient accepted or declined entry into the electronic health record system).
4.2 Discussion: Electronic health records have the potential to improve health care greatly. Electronic health records allow the health records of individuals to move between health providers (such as between GPs when an individual moves, or between hospitals and GP offices). Paper records make it hard for practitioners to get a full picture of a person’s health as they may be located elsewhere and they are hard to search for relevant information. Electronic centralised records will ensure that oversight of pre-existing conditions will occur much less often.
Electronic health records also allow for deep data analysis, meaning that computer algorithms can, for example, be utilised to inform practitioners if the combination of the patient’s existing conditions indicate another underlying condition.
The current electronic health record system is underutilised and is difficult to sign up to. The government should ensure that this system can achieve its full potential as a preventative and health care aid.
5. Healthy eating initiatives
5.1 Policy: Establish healthy eating initiatives. Publications will be produced that will focus on cheap, easy to prepare and healthy meals from a variety of cultures in Australia. Guidelines and resources will be provided for healthcare professionals to improve the quality of such programs by personalising to individual needs.
6. A New Health Monitoring System
6.1. Policy: Develop an opt-in health monitoring system that asks people to log their health outcomes (weight, exercise regimen, etc.) and aims, and if those aims are met. This system can also be used to capture information about user behaviour that impacts health. This health monitoring system can be integrated with the electronic health care system, such that the doctor can access these records if the individual consents. The health monitoring system can be used by practitioners to try different regimens with a patient, and will be convenient to access either by computer, or by smartphone application.
7. Food labelling laws
7.1. Policy: Adjust alcoholic beverage labelling to include nutritional information.
7.2. Discussion: People should feel free to indulge on occasion, but making healthy eating decisions is impossible without information about what you are eating. Alcoholic beverages are currently exempted from having to include nutritional information on its packaging, despite the fact that mass produced alcoholic beverages have highly controlled ingredient compositions. A significant proportion of the population consume a substantial amount of energy through consumption of alcoholic beverages, and they should at least be able to determine what they are consuming if they wish to know.
7.3. Policy: If a nutritional claim is made on food packaging, it must be accompanied by the energy content of the food in text that is the same size as the claim. For example, if a food packaging has a claim “Contains only 3g of fat” and it takes 5% of the packaging area, it must contain a standardised label of the equal size noting how much energy is contained in the food and the percentage equivalent of the standardised recommended dietary intake (RDI).
7.4. Discussion: The Science party believes that people should be allowed to enjoy a variety of foods, including those that are considered to be not as healthy. Regulation of what is allowed to be sold is an over-reaction to the obesity problem. Consumers should be allowed to make informed choice about the foods that they eat. These changes to food labelling are design to allow freedom in choosing foods, while allowing that choice to be an informed one.
The number of health claims made on food are constantly increasing, but the obesity problem continues to worsen. Health claims on food are often deceptive about the health qualities of the food. For example, many foods claim that their food is low in fat, yet contain high levels of sugar. This behaviour is deliberately deceptive on the part of food manufacturers to encourage people looking for healthy food choices to choose an unhealthy option.
8.1. Policy: To trial a policy of drug decriminalisation for a limited period to determine if decriminalisation will result in decreased drug use in Australia. Personal drug use and possession is to be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal offence. Drug manufacture and trade will continue to be a criminal offence.
8.2. Discussion: The Science Party considers drug use to be health and social issue primarily, and a law and order issue secondarily. The reason we have laws regarding drug use is the impact that drugs have on people’s health; and hence enforcement of drug law is only useful as long as it improves the quality of life of those who will be affected by drug use.
There is ample evidence that shows a strongly punitive legal approach to drug use, such as in the United States, fails to reduce drug use while causing a great deal of secondary harm. Conversely, decriminalisation of drug use and treatment of drug use as a health issue has been shown to reduce the rate of drug use in countries such as Portugal (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1893946,00.html).
The Science Party believes in making decisions based on evidence, and international evidence suggests decriminalisation has a positive impact on drug abuse. If local evidence shows no improvement or a worsening in drug use following decriminalisation in Australia, the laws will return to what they were before the policy implementation.
9. Mental Health
9.1. Policy: To continue funding for early intervention in psychosis
9.2. Discussion: The Science Party welcomes and supports recent moves by the Federal government to fund early intervention services for people suffering psychosis and related disorders. This model accords with both the latest evidence from clinical research and with The Science Party’s general preference for greater preventative rather than reactive healthcare, as the most effective and affordable way to achieve better health outcomes.
9.3. Policy: To provide intermediate-level mental health services across Australia
9.4. Discussion: Most resources in Mental Health in Australia are invested in high level acute care – primarily, people undergoing emergencies requiring treatment in psychiatric hospitals; and in low level care – treatment of low to moderately severe cases of anxiety and depression in the general population, by general practitioners and psychologists. There are few publicly funded treatment services available that fall between these levels of care. Specifically, there are relatively few services for people suffering serious chronic mental health conditions who are not experiencing an acute episode. Given the large costs to both the individual and society of responding to and treating psychiatric emergencies, the Science Party supports the provision of more medium level services to reduce the incidence of acute ill health, and to enable the chronically mentally ill to be productive and flourishing members of society.
Early Intervention in Psychosis model is a good step in this direction. The Science Party would also fund at a federal level a nationwide rollout of supported accommodation services, along the lines of the model established in Victoria.
9.5. Policy: Train front line public health and other government employees in mental health first aid.
9.6. Discussion: Front line public sector employees, including emergency service workers but also, for instance, bus drivers, teachers and Centrelink staff, frequently have to work with members of the public suffering from mental health problems. This may include encountering psychiatric emergencies in their workplaces, such as a suicide attempt or a psychotic episode.
The Science Party would introduce a requirement for at least 10% of all front line public employees to receive basic training in identifying and responding to mental health problems, in the form of the Australian developed and award winning Mental Health First Aid certificate. This is a modest requirement as the course is inexpensive and requires only a day of training.
10. Communicable Diseases
10.1. Policy: Treatment of communicable diseases should follow an evidence based, harm minimisation approach.
10.2. Discussion: Communicable diseases are at the nexus of societal interaction and health. Communicable diseases are a result of interactions with other human beings, whether it be through sex, drug use, or close interactions that result in the transfer of infections such as influenza. Hence effective strategies in communicable diseases must take into account the social situations that result in the transfer of these diseases.
Policy regarding communicable diseases should follow an evidence based, harm minimisation approach. The Science Party believes that fear of criminal repercussion and shame prevents many people from seeking treatment. For example, by removing the criminality attached to personal drug use, people who use drugs will feel less fear in reporting use to their general practitioner, and hence are more likely to access treatment that could treat and prevent the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis C. The Science Party’s drug policy reflects this approach to health care.
The Science Party views abortion as a medical rather than legal matter. The Science Party believes in access to safe and affordable abortion services for all women.
11.1. Policy: Abortion must only be carried out by an appropriately trained medical practitioner, and the practitioner must inform the pregnant woman of the medical implications of the abortion. Remove all other legal restrictions on accessing abortion up to and including the 24th week of pregnancy. After the 24th week of pregnancy, two appropriately trained medical practitioners must agree that an abortion would represent less of a risk to the pregnant woman’s physical or mental health than would continuing the pregnancy (as per current Victorian practice). Medical abortion (such as the “abortion pill” RU486, mifepristone) should be offered when the attending medical practitioner believes it is a safe option.
11.2. Discussion: Later-term abortion carries greater risks than early-term abortion, and so while it must still be available as an option, the pregnant woman must be made aware of these risks so that abortion is carried out with fully informed consent in all cases. Data from South Australia, the USA and Canada suggest that later-term elective abortion represents approximately 1–2% of all abortions when abortion laws are permissive.
11.3. Policy: Ensure equality of access to abortion:
(a) Standardise abortion legislation nationwide.
(b) As per current Tasmanian legislation:
- No individual has a duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any non-emergency termination if the individual has a conscientious objection to terminations.
- A medical practitioner has a duty to perform a termination in an emergency if a termination is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman or to prevent her serious physical injury.
- If a woman seeks a termination or advice regarding pregnancy options from a medical practitioner and the practitioner has a conscientious objection to terminations, the practitioner must, on becoming aware that the woman is seeking a termination or advice regarding pregnancy options, provide the woman with a referral to a clinic or practitioner who does not have objections to such procedures.
(c) Medicare funding for abortion at all stages of pregnancy.
11.4. Discussion: The Science Party believes that the laws surrounding abortion should be consistent around Australia to ensure that people from all states and territories can access abortions that are safe and affordable. Consistency of legality also means that health professionals are not burdened with having to consider the legal implication of procedures when crossing state lines for work. All people should have the ability to choose whether to have children or not, regardless of geography or income level.