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The National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030 has outlined critical targets to drive new investment in health prevention, and improve inequalities through a greater focus on primary health care and physical activity – and physiotherapy forms a crucial part of the strategy’s implementation.

Launched in December, the 10-year strategy is a roadmap to early intervention, better information, targeting risk factors and addressing the broader causes of poor health and wellbeing with four broad goals:
  • all Australians have the best start in life
  • all Australians live in good health and wellbeing for as long as possible
  • health equity is achieved for priority populations
  • investment in preventive health is increased.

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In response to this announcement, the National President of the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA), Scott Willis, said in a statement that the APA has long pushed for the urgent implementation of new preventive health models, particularly among high-risk populations.

“This Strategy will ensure we apply a stronger health equity lens to preventive health actions, and when coupled with physiotherapy, will result in better health and wellbeing. Physiotherapy holds some of the most promising models in reorienting the health system towards primary care,” Mr Willis said.

“We know that priority populations stand to benefit most from physiotherapy-led prevention, and this Strategy signals an important shift from management to prevention, which will be critical for all Australians”, Mr Willis explained.

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The Strategy was officially launched by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt, at an online webinar hosted by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) with more than 1,200 people registered.

The Minister noted that chronic conditions are the leading cause of ill health and death in Australia, accounting for 87% of deaths. He said 38% of the chronic disease burden could be prevented through a reduction in modifiable risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity and the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

“We can really show how we have prevented a huge amount of disease and now have a greater global life expectancy at over 20 years of age, largely attributable to prevention,” Minister Hunt said.

Prevention Centre Co-Director Professor Andrew Wilson also spoke at the launch, acknowledging it was great to see recognition of the complexity that is involved in prevention.

“Too often [prevention] is reduced to lists of simplistic interventions without acknowledging the interplay of social, socio-economic, environmental, psychological and biological factors,” he said.

“This complexity, this multi-layered nature of prevention, is recognised and the environmental, structural, economic, cultural and biomedical factors.”

It is estimated that a third of the disease burden in Australia could be prevented by reducing modifiable risk factors, such as obesity or physical inactivity. The Strategy places a strong emphasis on the importance of physiotherapy in reducing this burden.

Representing the highest health spend at $14 billion, more money is spent on musculoskeletal disorders, such as osteoarthritis and back pain, than any other disease, condition or injury in Australia.

“Physiotherapy helps people of all ages to prevent, manage and rehabilitate injury, illness or disability, and screen for a range of preventive health conditions, particularly in the ‘pain’ space,” Mr Willis said.

“Physical activity can assist in the prevention and management of these conditions, and physiotherapy plays a key role in preventing or reducing the length of hospitalisation through its prescription.

“Prescribing our way out of pain is not a viable solution. The expansion of public physiotherapy for prevention and management of chronic conditions and pain, is critical.”

“Too many Australians are waiting for treatment, and this expansion should extend to the prevention of falls, workplace injuries, chronic pain, sporting injuries and those living with disability”, Mr Willis said in his statement.

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.