Australia’s Public Hospitals Under-funded – AMA

by Gopalan on Oct 15 2009 10:01 AM

Australia’s public hospitals continue to be seriously under-funded and are struggling to meet growing public demand for their services, says Public Hospital Report Card 2009, a report brought out by the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

Hospitals in every state are operating at crush loads, with all exceeding the recommended 85per cent capacity, and some exceeding 120 per cent occupancy - meaning patients have to lie on trolleys in corridors.

Thus the public hospitals are performing poorer than ever despite the Kevin Rudd government's much-vaunted $600 million injection last year that was supposed to improve elective surgery waiting lists.

The new report is an analysis of the most up-to-date national data on public hospital performance plus more recent feedback from doctors working in public hospitals in all States and Territories.

More than half the Australian population depends on the public hospital system, yet the hospitals do not have the capacity (funds, workforce, or infrastructure) to adequately meet their needs.

AMA President Dr Andrew Pesce said the report shows that the public hospital system is continuing to decline and, despite the best efforts of a dedicated and hardworking health workforce, quality and safety are being put to the test.

People still experience excessive waits in emergency departments and excessive waits for admission to a hospital bed. Waiting times for elective surgery have been getting longer.

These trends are the inevitable consequence of decisions taken by governments, over many years, to reduce the capacity of the public hospitals to meet the needs of Australians who require hospital treatment.

The report card found no state or territory is meeting acceptable benchmarks for surgery waiting times and emergency department performance in public hospitals.

The report said the elective surgery waiting times are alarmingly higher in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) than the national average.

The median waiting time is 72 days compared with 34 days nationally.

AMA leaders from each state yesterday backed up the figures with vivid accounts from the medical front line, saying the situation had not improved since the end of the 2007-08.

ACT AMA president Paul Jones, for instance, says demand for services is outstripping supply.

"What GPs in Canberra tell me is that things are not getting better in terms of elective surgery," he said.

"This is one of the real challenges that is confronting us as a community and governments in terms of administering it, that with an ageing population, with an increase in use of a whole variety of medical technologies we can do more than we used to be able to do 30 years ago," he said.

"We're running into the problem that we can do more but we have more people wanting it done."

But ACT Health Minister Katy Gallagher says the Government is increasing bed numbers.

Opposition health spokesman Jeremy Hanson says Minister Gallagher - who is also the Treasurer - needs to pay more attention to her health portfolio.

"She's got to drop one of those portfolios," he said.

"We've got all of these terrible problems occurring in health, we've got the global financial crisis that has consumed a lot of Katy Gallaghers time.

"She's not diverting enough attention to health as she should be."