Federal Health Minister Mr Greg Hunt has launched a new set of standards to improve the care patients receive in primary health settings, including optometry practices who will be able to become accredited to the standards next year.
On 12 October, the minister unveiled the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards. They are designed to protect Australians from harm and lift the quality of healthcare that people receive in such settings.
According to the commission, the new standards provide a framework that can be applied to a broad range of services such as dental practices, allied health services, including optometry, audiology, podiatry and physiotherapy, as well as Chinese medicine clinics, community health services and skin clinics.
The primary healthcare sector is a significant part of Australia’s healthcare industry, accounting for 34%, or $63.4 billion, of Australia’s total health expenditure in 2017−18.
Commission chief medical officer Conjoint Professor Anne Duggan said the new standards would provide a clear framework for healthcare services across the sector to deliver safe healthcare.
“The National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards will be a game changer for the health sector in Australia, by giving practitioners the tools to be even better,” she said.
“In time, Australians will have confidence that when they visit a primary or community healthcare service accredited to the standards, they are receiving safe and high-quality healthcare – no matter the type of health service they are using or where they access it.
“Each year, most Australians will visit a primary or community healthcare service in their local area. It is vital that these patients can trust the quality of care they receive and know they will be safe from harm.”
The document comprises three key standards: Clinical Governance Standard, Partnering with Consumers Standard and Clinical Safety Standard – each with different elements to be implemented by healthcare services.
“The new standards describe elements shared by all safe, high-quality healthcare services. That is, they should be well-managed, ensure that people who use their service will be safe from harm, and enable patients to be partners in their own health care and to know their opinion is valued by the healthcare professional,” Duggan stated.
“Australia has had nationally consistent standards in hospitals and day procedure services for 10 years. Since then, the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards have led to significant improvements in patient safety. In time, we expect these new standards to lead to improvements in health care provided by primary and community services.”
Standards earn backing of chief allied health officer
The new standards have the support of the Australian Government chief allied health officer Dr Anne-marie Boxall who encouraged the sector to find out how to apply the framework to their services.
“It is important that people feel safe when they access a healthcare service, that the care patients receive is tailored to their needs, and that they are supported to make informed decisions about their own care,” she said.
“Now is the time for healthcare services to become familiar with the new standards, ahead of voluntary independent accreditation being introduced next year. Healthcare providers may identify areas that need some attention, while many will find that they are already addressing elements described in the standards.
“By implementing these standards, healthcare services will be well positioned to demonstrate to their patients that they are providing safe, high-quality care.”
Boxall added: “I am delighted that these standards are now available to primary and community healthcare services, so that all people accessing care can trust that accredited health services are accountable and striving to improve their practice.”
The commission is developing comprehensive resources to support healthcare services to implement the new standards and to help consumers understand what the standards will mean for them.
From mid-2022, healthcare services can be independently assessed and become accredited to the new standards. Over time, Australians will be able to ask their healthcare service if they are accredited and look for an accreditation certificate or badge at the healthcare service or on their website.
The standards were developed following consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including the Australian Government, state and territory partners, primary and community healthcare services, consumers, peak bodies and interest groups.