A healthy voice
The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) is the independent peak membership body and advocate for the Australian healthcare system. As a national voice for universally accessible and high quality healthcare in Australia, AHHA is uniquely positioned to facilitate collaboration between clinicians, academics, policy makers, administrators and politicians.
The AHHA was established in 1946 by Dr. Herbert Schlink (later Sir Herbert) under the Australian Hospital Association (AHA) guise. The AHA joined the International Hospital Federation in 1949, and eventually changed their name to the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association in 2006.
CEO Prue Power joined the AHHA in July 2003. She previously worked for the Australian Medical Association as Director of General Practice and e-Health for seven years. She joined the association because they uphold the values and principles of the public healthcare system in Australia.
“I love working for the association, and I love working alongside our member hospitals, health services and all the committed people who work in the sector,” she says.
Power is also a member of the University of Canberra’s governing council, and a Director of HESTA – the superannuation fund for the community services and health sectors.
The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association’s membership includes public hospitals, state health departments, community health providers, and individual health professionals and academics.
They support members in a number of ways through policy development, advocacy and networks or communities of interest on key policy issues. “The breadth of our membership means we are uniquely placed to be an independent, national voice for universally accessible, high quality healthcare,” Power says.
The AHHA also runs Just Health Consultants (JHC), a consultancy service to support Australian healthcare organisations at national, state, regional, hospital and community levels across all sectors to meet the complex governance and organisational requirements of today’s healthcare system.
As the national voice for high quality healthcare, the AHHA enjoys an excellent relationship with government and other parties in the federal parliament as a result of their lobbying efforts. They are well-respected and recognised by all governmental bodies as the voice of public healthcare, and as a “thoughtful, considered, progressive voice on health reform,” she says.
The AHHA is routinely consulted on key policy issues and on a number of occasions have gave input in the development of policy in a range of key areas. For example, they’ve been deeply involved in discussion and consultation regarding the National Health Reform Agreement – particularly where the impact falls on hospitals and healthcare.
Another example of their influence was when Power sat on the government’s National Advisory Council on dental health reform. It was her advice and recommendations that helped shape the dental health package included in the 2012 budget, as well as ongoing deliberations about dental health policy.
A relatively new area of focus for the AHHA – and one that is just as important as advocacy – is environmental and sustainability initiatives. Power was surprised to learn recently that the health sector is responsible for seven per cent of carbon emissions from all buildings in Australia.
“In the scheme of things health services are not really big polluters. Energy used by buildings – both residential and commercial – accounts for around 20 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions in total,” she says. “So that seven per cent is a relatively small slice of the overall carbon pie.”
While the new carbon pricing arrangements won’t directly affect healthcare services and hospitals, the industry may feel a backlash in the form of higher energy prices.
“It is time to be thinking about the carbon footprint of the health system and opportunities for pursuing greater energy efficiency within the sector,” Power says. “The preparedness of the health sector for dealing with the impacts of climate change also needs to be dealt with.”
In response to the challenge of promoting environmental sustainability in health, the AHHA recently joined the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network. It is a global system of more than 3,500 hospitals from six continents dedicated to reducing the health sector’s ecological footprint and promoting public environmental health.
The AHHA is also forming a network of individuals and organisations interested in sharing ideas and information about energy efficiency in hospitals and climate change preparedness.
The challenges facing the AHHA are often the same as the challenges facing their member organisations – the industry is busy and complex, with lots of different issues to engage on. “Often there is not enough time or resources to do all of them justice. It’s a constant balancing act,” Power explains.
Another challenge is retaining funds because the AHHA does not receive any government funding. They rely entirely on membership dues for revenue, “so we are constantly working to attract new members, and ensuring our current members get value for their money with what we provide them,” she says.
At the moment, the AHHA is actively engaging on a range of policy issues and debates including the support of members in the implementation phase of national health reforms, advocating in dental health and encouraging discussion and debate in new areas such as the sustainability of the health system.
Looking ahead to the longer term, the AHHA will continue to grow as a high profile and well-respected organisation nationally and internationally. In the next five to 10 years, Power would like to see the current set of health reforms to be “well and truly bedded down,” and delivering improvements in services for consumers and patients nationwide – particularly to ensure quality of care and improved coordination and integration of care.
“We would also like to see Australia moving towards a universal dental health scheme,” she concludes.
For more information, please visit their website at: The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association