As an organisation founded on providing care and support to all – but with a particular emphasis on the most disadvantaged – St Vincent’s Health Australia has a proud tradition of advocacy. SVHA’s advocacy is for the benefit of those who rely on its services but also for improvements to the health and aged care systems as a whole. SVHA sees advocacy – to governments, to health and aged care policymakers, and via the media to the public – as crucial in delivering on its Mission. SVHA’s advocacy is focused on tackling the systemic causes of injustice and vulnerability.

Alcohol and other drugs treatment

During 2018-19, SVHA began coordinating a campaign of more than 20 organisations to highlight the underfunding and poor planning affecting Australia’s alcohol and other drugs treatment services.

According to best estimates, up to half a million Australians can’t get the help they need from treatment services because they’re either unavailable or waiting lists are too long. The situation is worst in regional and rural Australia: for example, people in remote parts of the nation are 2.5 times more likely to use methamphetamines.

The longer people wait for the help they need, the greater the damage, the higher the increased health costs, and the harder peoples’ problems are to treat.

And while lack of funding is a major part of the problem, poor planning is also an issue. Services are unevenly distributed, crisis-oriented, and there can be poor integration with other clinical and social programs, with often no easy access point for help.

In response, SVHA is helping to coordinate a group including Uniting, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the Noffs Foundation, Odyssey House, the Penington Institute, and the peak bodies representing state and territory treatment service providers, calling on federal and state/territory governments to work together on a national solution, including investing an extra $1.2bn in annual funding.

In addition, SVHA has discussed other critical alcohol and other drug policy areas with governments, including its opposition to the Commonwealth’s efforts to introduce a drug testing trial for income support recipients, and the importance of maintaining Sydney’s ‘lock-out’ laws to reduce alcohol-related harms.

Queensland’s end-of-life inquiry

St Vincent’s Health clinicians joining with health and community workers from the Northern Peninsula Area of Cape York to develop culturally appropriate palliative care services for the region

Because of its expertise, SVHA sought input into the Queensland Parliament’s inquiry into aged care, palliative and end-of-life care, and voluntary assisted dying which began in December 2018.

St Vincent’s Private Hospital Brisbane operates the largest palliative care service in Queensland: a 40-bed specialist inpatient facility with shared public and private beds, along with a multidisciplinary community specialist palliative care service for patients within the Brisbane City local government area.

Of SVHA’s 19 aged care facilities, 11 are based in Queensland.

The main thrust of SVHA’s submission was the need for better planning in Queensland’s end-of-life services; the need to integrate services and funding across both the health and aged care systems; improve education about palliative care and end-of-life among health and aged care professionals; and increase investment in workforce and services.

SVHA’s submission also highlighted the serious and ongoing need for tailored and culturally appropriate palliative care services for Queensland’s large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. The organisation offered to share its knowledge from developing palliative care services for remote Indigenous communities in Cape York to support more Indigenous Queenslanders to die ‘on country’.

Health reform

Australia’s health system is increasingly showing signs of strain.

The latest figures show the proportion of Australians with private hospital cover has fallen to its lowest level since June 2007 as people question both its affordability and value. 1

The haemorrhaging of policyholders is flowing through to private hospitals as they struggle with softening demand for elective surgery and ultimately reduced revenues.

At the same time, public hospitals are overwhelmed with the health demands of an ageing population and chronic illness, leading to growing waiting lists and Emergency Departments struggling under intense pressure.

It’s also clear that Australia’s health system is being buffeted by the demographic and societal changes that are impacting on the rest of society.

The technology boom, the ageing population, increasing costs, chronic illness, and peoples’ desire to be treated at home will inevitably lead to dramatic changes in how health care is delivered.

As a major provider of both private and public hospital services, SVHA is uniquely placed to provide comment and advice on the necessary structural reforms needed in the health system, particularly so that low income and marginalised people are not negatively affected.

Throughout 2018-19, SVHA frequently pursued opportunities to discuss health and aged care reform with politicians, media and other stakeholders.

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Internal communications

Improved workforce communication and engagement has been a key focus for the year: tackling the unique challenge of connecting a distributed and mobile workforce more deeply to SVHA’s Mission, and elevating general awareness of peer achievements across the organisation.

Working from a deliberate engagement strategy, SVHA made changes to its mass communication channels, content, and change management strategy to satisfy the needs of its diverse employees.

Improvements were made by modernising language, increasing the use of video, and improving accessibility through new and visually rich channels. Greater support was also offered in the area of change management, a core requirement for major projects.

These efforts have paid off with a 66% increase in readership of strategic information and a 15% increase in participation rates for the organisation’s annual engagement survey. A ‘people impact assessment’ is also now a feature of any technology project management process, ensuring SVHA’s people are supported throughout any change.

In the year ahead, SVHA will launch a mobile-first communication channel that directly works to better connect St Vincent’s people with each other and reinforce shared culture.

SVHA Marketing

Finally, as part of SVHA’s strategic drive to cement itself as a provider of choice for health outcomes in Australia, the organisation established a new national Brand and Marketing team during the year, based within the Corporate Affairs department.

The team will develop new products, services and marketing programs to create business growth and enhance the visibility and reputation of the St Vincent’s Health brand, locally and nationally.

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