Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has offered $500 million in funding to help cut waiting times in public hospital emergency wards.
About 600,000 patients a year wait longer than eight hours in emergency wards across the country, he noted during a visit to QE2 Jubilee Hospital in Brisbane today.
"A lot of analysis has gone into this particular target," Mr Rudd said.
As per his plans, the Federal Government will provide $150 million from July 1 to help public hospitals increase the capacity of emergency departments.
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says another $350 million will be allocated to hospitals that meet targets to cut waiting times.
"This is providing extra resources to our hard-working doctors and nurses in our emergency departments to ensure they can meet a new four hour target for people to be admitted to hospital, referred to follow-up treatment or treated and discharged," she said.
"So that families over time can get better and quicker access - not be waiting all night - to be admitted to hospital or treated or referred elsewhere."
The proposed new funding is expected to boost the number of patient services from 7.1 million to 8.3 million a year.
"For more than a decade, Australians have suffered as public hospital emergency departments struggled to cope with two million extra presentations," Mr Rudd said.
"This investment will mean families can be confident, when they or a loved one need urgent care in an emergency department, they will no longer have to spend all night sitting in the waiting room or waiting for a bed."
The four-hour target, phased in over four years, will start by targeting patients in the most urgent categories of clinical need.
Mr Rudd said the government would work with doctors to establish safe, national protocols to implement the target.
"The target will not over-rule the best clinical judgement of doctors, including on decisions as to whether the best treatment is to admit a patient within four hours," he said.
The Rudd Government's hospital plan aims to take over state health systems by offering to fund 60 per cent of total costs.
The federal Government has already pledged $750 million to improve emergency room capacity in 37 public hospitals.
It is understood there is likely to be even more money to upgrade emergency rooms and purchase new equipment in the May Budget.
While welcoming the announcement, the Australian Medical Association Andrew Pesce also urged the Government to release all the extra funding associated with its health plan.
"It makes it increasingly difficult for us to continue to be strongly supportive of the Government's intention to reform the health system when we don't have the information to allow us to be confident that they're putting the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together properly," he said.
Opposition Health spokesman Peter Dutton says the money might not be enough.
"It would seem that $500 million may go only a small way to helping, but nonetheless it is a significant amount of money," he said.
So far, state governments have welcomed the funding but say they are not yet ready to sign up to the Government's health and hospitals plan when they meet in a week.