Multiple sclerosis is just one of many neurological conditions that, collectively, are estimated to affect around one in six Australians. And neurological conditions are just one of a range of disease groups that collectively make up the chronic disease category.
The major chronic disease groups include neurological, cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes, respiratory and musculoskeletal conditions. This broad disease group should be the nation’s number one health priority. Consider the following:
- Chronic disease accounts for 85% of years lost due to ill health or early death
- Nearly half (47%) of Australians have one or more chronic diseases
- Chronic disease accounts for 66% of the total burden of disease
- Nine in 10 preventable deaths are from chronic disease
- People with chronic conditions are 60% less likely to participate in the workforce
- Chronic disease accounts for 1 in 2 hospitalisations
Little wonder that last week’s Intergenerational Report, released with great fanfare by the Federal Treasurer, pointed to the need to do more to tackle chronic disease as the population ages.
While half of all Australians currently have a complex or chronic condition, this share is expected to rise significantly over the coming decades.
The authors understand that changing patterns of disease have major implications for health and aged care expenditure, disability support and – ultimately – quality of life.
It is essential that governments – federal, state, territory and local – all place a greater emphasis on chronic disease and its prevention, management, treatment and research.
In the case of MS and other neurological conditions, we find reasons to applaud the actions of government, especially in the case of MS, access to affordable, efficacious medications.
But there are other areas where huge gaps exist. For example, early detection and treatment are essential, and yet we know there are many who don’t get timely access to a neurologist or MS nurse. In fact, the number of MS nurses is declining while MS prevalence is on the rise.
Bizarrely, even basic data is lacking, with no national minimum data set in place for neurological conditions. And when it comes to research, we know that neurological conditions are underfunded when compared with other major disease groups.
The Intergenerational Report is an important document that should guide evidence-based investment by governments into our most pressing challenges. Chronic disease needs more attention and action. And neurological conditions, as a sub-set of chronic disease, desperately need more attention and action.
We will be taking the case for action to parliament, with a major neurological summit to be held next year. Governments will pay lip service to the Intergenerational Report, not at their peril, but ours.