Australians living longer but are sicker

Older couple blowing out birthday candles. | Newsreel
The life expectancy of Australians is increasing, but quality of life is diminishing. | Photo: Bernard Bodo (iStock)

Australians’ life expectancy has increased by 40 percent since 2000, but our quality of life is dropping.

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows a child born in Australia today can expect to live 81.2 years (boys) and 85.3 years (girls).

Australian Medical Association President Steve Robson said this was an increase of about 40 percent since the start of the 20th century and is the fourth best among OECD countries.

Professor Robson said Australia’s health system was widely regarded as one of the best in the world, demonstrated by the fact and Australia’s life expectancy was now higher than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“However, Australians are spending an increasing number of years, on average, in ill health, which is placing more pressure and demand on the health system,” he said.

The report, Australia’s health 2024: in brief, shows the average number of yearly GP visits per person increased from 3.8 in 1984 to 6.8 in 2022.

Professor Robson said there had also been considerable increases in wait times for planned surgery.

He said in 2022–23, 50 percent of patients were admitted for planned surgery within 49 days of being placed on the waiting list, up from 40 days in the previous year, and 9.6 per cent of patients waited longer than 365 days, up from 6.3 percent.

“While there are many positives to take from this report, there are also red flags and warnings that governments must pay attention to,” Professor Robson said.

“Australians are living longer, but the burdens of chronic disease and mental illness are on the rise.

“We must treat health spending as an investment, rather than a cost. Placing a greater focus on preventive health, mental health and increasing support for general practice would help Australians live healthier lives and would save taxpayer dollars in the long run by reducing pressure on the health system.”

Professor Robson said there must also be immediate action from all governments to address the public hospital logjam crisis.

“It is unacceptable to have such long wait times in emergency departments and for surgery.”

The AIHW report confirmed Australia fared well in the Covid-19 pandemic when compared with other OECD countries, with one of the lowest prevalence of Covid-19 infections.

“Australia managed the Covid-19 pandemic very well, but it was one of the leading causes of death in 2022 — the first time in more than 50 years an infectious disease has been in the top five causes of death, highlighting the critical importance of staying up to date with vaccines and boosters,” Professor Robson said.

“We also expect to see knock-on health effects as a result of people delaying access to care for health issues during the heights of the Covid-19 pandemic.”