Responsibility for evidence-based policy in cardiovascular disease in rural communities: Implications for persistent rural health inequalities
journal contributionposted on 2020-06-01, 00:00 authored by Laura AlstonLaura Alston, L Bourke, Melanie NicholsMelanie Nichols, Steven AllenderSteven Allender
Objective: The aim of this study was to understand, from the perspective of policy makers, who holds the responsibility for driving evidence-based policy to reduce the high burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in rural Australia. Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted with policy makers at the local, state and federal government levels in Australia (n = 21). Analysis was conducted using the Conceptual Framework for Understanding Rural and Remote Health to understand perceptions of policy makers around who holds the key responsibility in driving evidence-based policy. Results: At all levels of government, there were multiple examples of disconnect in the understanding of who is responsible for driving the generation of evidence-based policy to reduce CVD in rural areas. Policy makers suggested that the rural communities themselves, health services, health professionals, researchers and the health sector as a whole hold large responsibilities in driving evidence-based policy to address CVD in rural areas. Within government, there was also a noticeable disconnect, with local participants feeling it was the federal government that held this responsibility; however, federal government participants suggested this was largely a local government issue. Overall, there seemed to be a lack of responsibility for CVD policy, which is reflected in a lack of action in rural areas. Conclusion: There was a lack of clarity about who is responsible for driving evidence-based policy generation to address the high burden of CVD in Australia, providing one possible explanation for the lack of policy action. Clarity among policy makers over shared roles and leadership for policy making must be addressed to overcome the current burden of CVD in rural communities. What is known about the topic?: Rural health inequalities, such as the increased burden of CVD in rural Australia are persistent. Such health inequalities are unjust, with global theory suggesting political processes have facilitated, in part, the inequalities. With similar examples observed internationally in rural areas, little is known about the influence of the perspectives of policy makers regarding who is responsible for addressing health issues in rural areas, in the government context. What does this paper add?: This paper provides empirical evidence, for all levels of government in Australia, that there is a lack of clarity in policy roles and responsibilities to address the unequal burden of CVD in rural Australia, at all levels of government. The paper provides evidence to support the urgent need for clarity within government around policy stakeholder roles. Without such clarity, it is unlikely that national-level progress in addressing rural health inequalities will be achieved in the near future. What are the implications for practitioners?: Addressing ambiguity around who is responsible for the development of evidence-based policy to address the high burden of CVD in rural areas must be a high priority to ensure health disparities do not persist for future Australian generations. The results reported here are highly relevant to the Australian context, but also reflect similar findings internationally, namely that a lack of clarity among policy stakeholders appears to contribute to reduced action in addressing preventable health inequalities in disadvantaged populations. This paper provides evidence for policy makers and public health professionals to advocate for clear policy roles and direction in rural Australia.