The year 2020 will be forever defined by COVID-19 and its global impact. In Australia – through a mixture of good fortune, a favourable geography, and aggressive policy – the impact has thankfully been orders of magnitude less than most other countries in the world. In terms of the health and care system a long-term impact is still likely to be felt, not least in managing the significant backlog of elective treatments that have arisen. The impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, particularly in communities impacted by the economic downturn, is likely to be considerable. For people living with long-term chronic conditions or physical disabilities, the limitations they have faced in accessing ongoing care over the last year will also have its effect.
One of the observations that many commentators have made during this year is how unprepared the health and care system has been to respond effectively to the pandemic – for example, in respect of those living in rural and remote area, indigenous communities, and older people within residential aged care settings. The stark reality is how COVID-19 has exposed system fragmentations that hinder effective service responses, particularly in primary and community care settings where there are needed the most. Inequalities in access to care and health outcomes, already poor in the Australian context, have been demonstrated to have widened in an alarming way.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the work of IFIC Australia in 2020 has taken a back seat to our Partners’ need to work long hours in preparing and responding to the pandemic. Nonetheless, we were able to capture this experience to contribute to IFIC’s powerful publication Realising the True Value of Integrated Care: Beyond COVID-19 that brought together thinking from across IFIC’s global hubs to provide a call for action. The nine actions, or ‘pillars’, outlined in the document provide for a future policy prospectus that should be considered by all policy makers if care systems and communities are to become more resilient in the future.
Despite a reduced schedule, IFIC Australia was able to convene webinars focusing in on promoting community resilience, case management and the alignment of finances. Australian involvement in ICIC20 – a major innovation in itself for IFIC in bringing its annual international conference on-line – was as strong as ever, and growth in Australian contributions to the International Journal of Integrated Care was also significant as IJIC itself created a new high in its readership and impact rating. Late in the year, an on-line accelerated learning program was convened with Children’s Health Queensland to support three project teams advance their integrated care project ideas.
Special mention during the year should also be made to two key pieces of work by our Partners. First, to the award winning work of John Eastwood and colleagues for the Healthy Homes and Neighbourhoods initiative, the experience being captured in IJIC’s special collection of papers. Also to our colleagues at the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health for the publication of the Orange Declaration that provides a clear future vision for a more coordinated, place-based and whole-of-community response to improve the mental health of rural residents.
Looking ahead to 2021, a priority activity for IFIC Australia will be the convening of an Autumn School in March 2021 commissioned by our Partners in Sydney LHD, SE Sydney LHD and Central & Eastern PHN with kind support from the BUPA Foundation. Australians will also have significant opportunities to engage remotely in ICIC21 – the 21st edition of IFICs international conference series – as well as IFIC’s Online Certificate in Integrated Care.
When we look back on our collective experience of 2020 there will be many lessons to learn, many experiences that might best be forgotten, but certainly a promise of a better future. Not everyone has got through it, and to those of us who have we may or may not be wiser for the experience. What is true, however, is that 2020 has demonstrated that integrated care matters and that it matters now more than ever.
Professor Nick Goodwin
Chair, IFIC Australia
Director, Central Coast Institute for Integrated Care, a joint venture of the University of Newcastle and the Central Coast Local Health District