PHNs plan to improve prevention in primary care

Representatives from Australia’s Primary Health Networks (PHNs) have come together in Canberra to discuss their role in the prevention of chronic disease.

The one-day workshop was facilitated by Research Fellow Dr Melissa Hobbs as part of a Prevention Centre project that aims to identify what preventive health strategies are working in primary care, with a view to enhancing the role that Australia’s 31 PHNs play in prevention.

Dr Melissa Hobbs
Dr Melissa Hobbs

The workshop provided an opportunity to learn what types of prevention activities and programs other PHNs are undertaking. Importantly, participants also discussed their experiences in barriers and enablers in implementing prevention initiatives in primary care.

Prevention Centre Director, Professor Andrew Wilson, encouraged participants to share their learnings from the many programs they were involved in. “This is an opportunity to bring PHNs together to learn from each other what key characteristics are needed to make prevention programs suitable to implement, scale-up and ultimately sustainable” he said.

PHN representatives presented interventions in their communities that showcased how PHNs can undertake successful prevention activities. A number of other stakeholders presented prevention initiatives that could potentially be trialed or scaled up in PHN areas.

For example, Western Sydney PHN’s Diabetes Initiative offers integrated care, including several ground-up activities in both primary and secondary prevention to address high rates of diabetes in the Western Sydney.

In recognition that diabetes prevention requires a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach, the initiative brings together an alliance of more than 100 partners from a broad range of interests, highlighting the willingness to invest in prevention and to try and tackle the prevalence of chronic disease in the wider community.

Professor Wilson acknowledged that PHNs play an important role in drawing attention to the social determinants of health. “It’s a fundamental component driving chronic disease and we should be having some sort of role, preferably a stronger role, especially at the regional level”, he said.

However, in order to address the social determinants of health that are contributing to chronic disease, PHNs will need further support and encouragement to develop collaborations both within and outside the health sector, he said.

The meeting acknowledged prevention initiatives are not without challenges. Several PHN representatives raised concerns that programs can demand too much of GPs in terms of time and resources and are often difficult to sustain. Some mentioned that there may be a public relations problem in that GPs may not be aware of the PHN role – as a commissioning organization. It was also suggested that greater integration of mental and physical health and more input from Aboriginal Medical Services into the PHN prevention agenda are required.

Solutions suggested included the need to normalise prevention activities, invest in leadership and build and sustain strong relationships and partnerships with local health districts, government and other stakeholders. It was agreed that PHNs need to complement existing prevention activities and programs in their regions rather than creating something new.

To help keep the conversation alive and facilitate further networking and engagement between PHNs, the Department of Health and the Prevention Centre, the next part of the project is to establish a Community of Practice in relation to prevention.

For more information about this project, please contact Dr Melissa Hobbs.

  • Ainsley Burgess, Senior Publications Officer