He’s taken the helm at a pivotal moment and Arthritis Australia’s new boss Andrew Mills says he’s ready to embrace the challenge.
Taking over the hot seat from highly-respected outgoing CEO Ainslie Cahill, Mr Mills joined the peak arthritis organisation as deputy chief executive in November last year after leaving his role as general manager marketing and communications at Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, where he had been for a decade.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Mr Mills, who has stepped into the role as work is in full swing to develop a National Strategic Action Plan for Arthritis, which the federal government has commissioned the peak not-for-profit to deliver in December.
The plan builds on recommendations of Arthritis Australia’s 2014 strategy document Time to Move: Arthritis, which the government has adopted as its latest national strategy.
“It is a bit of a watershed moment and testimony to the incredible efforts of Ainslie Cahill and Franca Marine, our research and government relations manager,” Mr Mills tells the limbic.
“The action plan which is funded by the government is a critical step in helping to deliver greater funding for arthritis generally.”
Mr Mills says he was attracted to the role after being struck by sheer scale of the burden of arthritis in the community. There are four million people living with arthritis compared to around 400,000 with dementia, so it’s a tenfold greater problem.
“Arthritis is a significantly underfunded, under-recognised condition and I thought my experiences and what I’d learnt could help the organisation moving forward to increase its voice and its visibility and attract traditional funding to achieve a lot of the objectives the organisation has.”
While details of the national arthritis strategy plan are being worked through, with stakeholders meeting for the first time last week, Mr Mills says two key priorities will be to increase the rheumatology nursing workforce and working with the food industry and other companies to improve accessible packaging of foods and other consumables.
Aside from the action plan, Mr Mills will be focusing on securing new revenue streams, increasing traditional funding and continuing to raise the profile of arthritis.
“There are a lot of people who are in desperate need of support, and we are limited by our current funding in what we are able to achieve so we seek to expand that funding envelope,” he says.
“Arthritis is disproportionately underfunded, compared to a number of other chronic diseases,” says Mr Mills, noting that government funding covers about 70% of Dementia Australia’s support services compared to less than 1% of Arthritis Australia’s support services.
“[Arthritis] is recognised as a national health priority but that has not to date translated into funding.
“So we are very hopeful, and working hard to ensure the action plan delivers a very focused approach and recommendations that we would hope the government would pick up.”