People are healthier if they can stay away from hospitals
One in 10 hospitals beds across Australia are operated by Catholic providers. Catholic hospitals have been operating here for more than 175 years. So you'd expect, in an election year in particular, for us to be campaigning for more money for hospitals. In fact, we're striving every day to see Australians need our hospitals less and less.
On Saturday we release our vision for how meaningful health reform can occur in Australia. And while we recognise that hospitals are a pivotal part of any health system, we need to do everything we can to keep people from needing to use hospitals in the first place.
That's why the lion's share of the priorities outlined in our health blueprint falls outside the scope of hospitals.
The blueprint offers a convenient yardstick against which to measure the health policies - and broader policy platforms - that political parties will campaign on.
Australians often cite health as one of their main concerns when asked their priorities when deciding which party to support. This blueprint and the six priorities contained in it will allow us to determine whether political parties are actually serious about delivering meaningful reform that will have a real impact on the health of Australians.
An objective analysis of health reform under the Rudd and Gillard governments would lead to the conclusion that, while new agencies have been established and there has been some recalibration of funding arrangements, very little has been achieved in meaningful reform that actually improves the health of Australians.
The tobacco plain-packaging legislation deserves special mention as a very important achievement, but it occupies a lonely spot as the light atop the hill.
Having said that, we could hardly argue that we're overly excited by the health-related policies we've seen, or not seen, from the Coalition.
It can be easy to sit on the opposition benches and criticise the policies of a government in one of the most difficult portfolio areas but we'd like to start seeing just what a Coalition - if elected - would do to change the landscape.
Meaningful health reform will put people at the centre of the care agenda. Health systems internationally are increasingly falling into the trap of trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes, trying to treat patients in the most expedient fashion, with the needs of doctors and administrators seeming to take priority over the needs of the sick.
The blueprint's six priorities would take us a long way towards achieving a goal of person-centred care.
The first key is to address the social determinants of health to reduce the gap in health outcomes between the most and least disadvantaged.
There also needs to be an increased focus on preventive health and health promotion, and the primary and community care systems need to be strengthened.
There needs to be improved integration within health, moving from the current situation of silos to a genuine health system.
People must be engaged, empowered and resourced to take greater ownership of their own health.
And the overall health system is in desperate need of governance reform.
We have written extensively on the need for governments at all levels to pay closer attention to the social determinants of health, acknowledging the powerful impact on health's status of government policies in education, employment, transport, planning and taxation - indeed, policies across all areas of government.
With high-school completion rates a better harbinger of poor health than blood pressure and cholesterol levels, for example, it is imperative that governments realise the importance of social and environmental factors on people's health.
Promoting healthy lifestyles - and discouraging unhealthy choices - again falls outside traditional healthcare delivery, but that approach has shown to be effective. It is much cheaper to keep people healthy than to have to build, staff and operate ever increasing numbers of hospitals - especially when it costs an average of $5000 for every hospital admission.
Less than 2 per cent of the federal health budget is spent on preventative health, and two-thirds of that is spent on valuable immunisation and vaccination programs, but one is left to wonder how great the impact of health promotion could be if they received higher levels of funding.
There is also a great need to empower people. Health literacy programs, starting in schools, can provide them with a better understanding of how they can ''own'' their health and apply healthy principles to their everyday lives. People need to have a much greater involvement in the decision-making about resourcing and delivery of health services.
Those are just some of the hopes we have for what political parties will prioritise in their election platform.
Australians deserve meaningful health reform and a robust debate on health policy, not political grandstanding. Will our politicians be up to the task?
Martin Laverty is CEO of Catholic Health Australia. The health blueprint can be accessed at www.cha.org.au