Health care systems facing major change

Published 17 May 2007

Health care systems around the world are in urgent need of remodelling and Professor Iain Graham, newly arrived from the United Kingdom, is playing a key role in making that happen.

Professor Graham, the new Head of Southern Cross University’s School of Health and Human Sciences, says health care systems around the world are wrongly focused on disease, not prevention.

“In terms of the economy, it’s best to stop people getting sick and intervening early. But we have health care systems that are based on disease management rather than health gain,” Professor Graham said.

“This stems from a 19th century view of health and health care work. The World Health Organisation in its various declarations has been urging national governments to realise this as they increasingly will not be able to afford the current system of health care provision.”

Professor Graham, who spent many years working as a mental health nurse before moving into management and education, said nursing itself needed a much broader field of practice than just a hospital based profession.

“The 21st century health care system will require investment in primary care and community care whilst hospital based care will focus on an increasing bio-technical range of therapies,” he said.

“We are beginning a paradigm shift in how we perceive health care.”

To help lead that change, Professor Graham is part of an international group formed by Sigma Theta Tau International (an oganisation set up to to improve nursing care worldwide) to promote global leadership for nurses. Its aim is to encourage leadership and give nurses the skills to lead global change.

“One has to look at how one can design a patient-centred system. If a country has a high incidence of diabetes or cardio-vascular disease, for example, one needs to look at how the systems are designed to tackle that. It is based on health promotion and preventative measures first, hence the media campaign globally which focuses upon lifestyle issues,” Professor Graham said.

In the UK, where the Blair government has introduced tremendous change based upon patient choice and access to services, nurse practitioners are playing a much greater role in health care provision, a trend likely to be followed in Australia.

“You have to start to think about access and choice and providing health care that is cheaper, but more effective. That will mean you have to challenge the vested interests,” he said.

“We also need to look at delivering systems that target vulnerable groups and communities within our society.”

Professor Graham said Southern Cross University’s School of Health and Human Sciences was ideally placed to train health care professionals who would fit this new model of health care.

He said the combination of disciplines such as nursing, natural and complementary medicine, exercise science and sports management and psychology would provide great opportunities for research and program development.

“Other specialties we are looking at with a view for development, such as midwifery, occupational therapy, nutrition and social work, could also play a key role,” Professor Graham said.

“Breastfed babies are less likely to have obesity and allergies. That goes hand-in-hand with training midwives who can do more than just working with pregnant mums. They can handle all sorts of women’s health issues.

“Mental health is another area. In the UK one in four people are having a mental health problem that is to do with lifestyle and I suspect Australia is similar.”

Professor Graham, who has been in Australia for a few months, said he had always been attracted to Australia.

“I have been looking for a change of scene and saw this as a great opportunity. Health is very much a global profession, not local,” he said.

He’s now looking forward to the arrival of his family and two dogs and being able to enjoy the Northern Rivers lifestyle.

Professor Graham’s qualifications include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Studies, a Master of Education, Master of Science (Nursing) and a PhD (Nursing). He has held a number of clinical and managerial roles in mental health in the British National Health Service. He was most recently the Dean and Professor of Nursing development at the Institute of Health and Community Studies at Bournemouth University in Dorset, UK.

Photo: Professor Iain Graham is the new Head of the School of Health and Human Sciences at Southern Cross University.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.