A farewell note from Stephen Duckett - Grattan Institute

After almost a decade at Grattan Institute, I have decided to hang up my orange spreadsheet – yes I’m one of the few who still uses Excel in what is an R shop. I’ll be leaving at the end of February 2022, after we release the two reports we are currently working on – home care, the fourth of our aged care stream, and out-of-hospital out-of-pocket payments, the final in our financial barriers stream. Hopefully, the former will be released before Christmas, the latter in February.

I have loved my time at Grattan. It is a really enjoyable workplace, where I have been surrounded by young, enthusiastic, friendly, and very intelligent colleagues. Who, incidentally, are also good cooks as evidenced by our Monday soups – at least as far as I remember them, since they have been suspended for so long during lockdown. It is a very supportive workplace, where engagement and collaboration sharpens and improves ideas, and their messaging. This environment has improved so much of what we do. Truly, without those colleagues, we would never have produced so much, nor of such high quality.

During my time at Grattan, the Health program, and now the Health and Aged Care program, produced about 30 reports, innumerable submissions, gave hundreds of speeches, wrote a zillion opinion articles. I now have more than 11,000 Twitter followers, and there has been almost 2.5 million reads of my pieces in The Conversation.

Grattan‘s objective is to influence public policy. The reports are important here, and we can point to many recommendations we have made which have been picked up by governments and supported by stakeholders. But what I’ve been on about at Grattan – and this is probably true of my academic contributions too – is trying to change the way people think in the health sector and in public policy. This is the point of the reports, the speeches, the Opinion pieces, etc.

COVID is front of mind for all of us still. If I look back over the past almost 2 years, I think we at Grattan can rightly claim to have been influential in how Australia responded to the pandemic, and how people thought about what could be achieved.

When we first started on our reports in 2020, and tried our ideas out on academics and others, many thought we were crazy to adopt a COVID-zero approach – of course some still think we’re crazy to do that. We were out there, pursuing an idea that was not even on the radar; official policy was all about what needed to be done to achieve suppression and protect the health system. But zero came to be accepted as possible, I think partly because of our advocacy and the modelling we did, and it is now still the reality in most states of Australia.

This year’s struggle was vaccinations. Again, when we wrote about a goal of greater than 80% of the population being vaccinated, many scoffed and said it was an impossible goal – ‘setting government up for failure’ was a comment. And yet here we are probably going to hit 80% of the whole population – our goal, not the wimpy 16+ denominator – in the next few months. Sure, a government-run Vaxlotto didn’t get up, but that was an instrument; other incentives have since been proposed and implemented. What was important was the big picture. Interestingly, a private Vaxlotto has been announced today.

Next steps for me will be continuing my board work – as Chair of Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network, Chair of the South Australian Health Performance Council, and member of the Council of RMIT University and the Board of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. I am working slowly on two books – the sixth edition of my book on the Australian health care system, and a new one on the ethics of healthcare funding. Other books are in the offing too, but after those are complete. I will also be continuing in my adjunct roles at the University of Melbourne especially, and may even get up to James Cook in Mt Isa. These will be the base for my continued contributions to the public debate.

The February 2022 date is also not unrelated to vaccination rates and border openings. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do more overseas travel – Noumea is on the radar early in the new year, where I plan to brush up on my French. Europe for eight weeks later in the year, including teaching in an activity-based funding program in Cyprus. More time at home, with more time to learn to relax, will be good too.

As I said, I’m not leaving Grattan until early next year, so there’ll be plenty of time for farewells in the meantime.

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