The formation of Health Consumers Alliance of SA Inc (HCA) was a milestone in community and consumer engagement in South Australia. For many years, people active in health issues knew that it was an uphill battle to have their voices heard and actioned in the health system.
Early in 2001, the South Australian Council of Social Services began exploring strategies for more effective consumer participation in health and community services, auspicing a project funded by the SA Department of Human Services.
A Healthy Voices network of consumers and providers who were interested in advancing consumer participation was formed, together with a Project Steering Group. In October 2001, Healthy Voices organised a Raise Your Voice conference, which attracted more than 100 delegates. The Conference showcased good examples of consumer and community participation in health planning and service delivery, and ratified a Directions Statement put forward by the Project Steering Group to advance more effective consumer, carer and community participation.
Conference participants decided the first priority was the creation of a state-based consumer organisation, and called on community people and groups to develop the aims, objectives and structure for such an organisation. Consultations leading to the formation of HCA strongly indicated that people wanted an organisation which took a social view of health - one which would concentrate on systemic issues and improvements, based on the experience of health consumers in the system.
In May 2002, John Wishart, Healthy Voices Project Coordinator, compiled findings in the report Setting Up a South Australian Consumer Health Organisation. An Interim Management Committee was established to frame the constitution, canvass members and incorporate under South Australian law.
Incorporation was achieved on 18 September 2002, and the inaugural Annual General Meeting was held on 6 November 2002.
HCA was evaluated after its first year of operation. The article below - Building an Effective Voice for Health Consumers in South Australia - appeared in Health Issues 81, Summer 2004. It summarises the evaluation findings, focussing on the benefits and achievements of HCA and areas that required additional attention.