Led by Research Fellow Dr Melissa Hobbs, the project will start by auditing what preventive health activities are currently being undertaken by PHNs in relation to chronic disease.
The project will also try to understand how PHNs view their role in prevention, and look at the barriers and enablers to their engagement in preventive health strategies in the future.
Dr Hobbs said that while the National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions highlighted the need for prevention, there had never been a preventive health framework developed for PHNs as there had for the organisations’ predecessors, the Medicare Locals.
“It has been challenging to get prevention on the agenda of the PHNs, but there are some PHNs doing fantastic stuff,” said Dr Hobbs, who previously worked in population health planning at the ACT PHN, Capital Health Network.
“I am aiming to identify these exemplar initiatives and see if we can replicate them or scale them up. We need a real shift to move the focus back to health promotion and prevention.”
PHNs nationally are being approached to take part in the project, which will try to improve the coherence of the PHN effort in reducing the burden of chronic disease.
It will also look at ways of improving the effectiveness of resourcing for preventive health in primary care. With funding for prevention a central issue, Dr Hobbs said the key could be to tie in prevention with initiatives that are already underway, such as the Health Care Homes.
It may be unrealistic to expect all GPs to engage in prevention, but other primary healthcare providers such as practice nurses or allied health providers such as social workers could be engaged to provide more holistic care that included prevention, she said.
“I think we need to move away from program delivery towards policy, infrastructure and funding mechanisms. We need everyone in the system to work together to identify the small things we can do to make a change.”