Explaining Primary Health Networks and commissioning

As Primary Health Networks approach their first anniversary a number of people have asked what kind of progress they have made to date and what’s to come over the next 12 months or so as they roll out their first commissioning strategies.

The Health Services Research Association of Australia and New Zealand recently hosted a webinar ably chaired by Associate Professor Suzanne Robinson (Curtin University, WA) and comprising a panel of me, Learne Durrington (Chief Executive, WA Primary Health Alliance) and Jason Trethowan (Chief Executive Officer, Western Victoria Primary Health Network Ltd.) to review the progress of PHNs to date.

The background to the webinar can be found below and if you want to view the discussion then you can find this here (due to some odd technical issue I am missing for the first 10 minutes or so!).

Health systems are challenged by pressures of increased demand and rising costs. The rise in complex chronic conditions means that the current system design that stems from an era when communicable disease was more prevalent than chronic is struggling to meet the changing health needs of the population. As governments look to ways to reform health systems we have seen an interest in the role of commissioning as a mechanism through which to reform many different aspects of public services. Primary Health Networks (PHNs) have been charged with commissioning primary care services in Australia. The essence of commissioning is to take a stewardship role with a focus on providing vision and direction for the health system, collecting and using intelligence, and exerting influence – through regulation and other means.

As PHNs reach their first birthday it’s timely to take stock of how commissioning is developing both nationally and internationally. The webinar incorporated research, policy and practice perspectives on the development and implementation of commissioning in Australia.

The panel session focused on broad areas relating to the following:

  • The current understanding of commissioning, and what it should achieve in PHN  localities;
  • The challenges and opportunities of the commissioning process in Australia;
  • Concepts and elements of successful commissioning;
  • How are PHN commissioners working with wider stakeholder groups?

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