Public hospital funding crisis highlights need for reforms

The AMA public hospital report card released today highlights that our hospitals and broader health system are facing a funding crisis, says the chief executive officer of the Consumer’s Health Forum, Leanne Wells.

“It is vitally important that the Australian community has a public hospital system that it can trust to deliver safe, quality and timely care when and where people need it.

“We recognise and value the calibre of Australia’s doctors, nurses and others who work in our public hospital system, and we appreciate the pressures they work under.

“While there are some areas of improvement, there are some concerning data in this latest report.

“Only 67% of emergency department patients classified as urgent (category 3) in 2015-16 were seen within the recommended 30 minutes. This is alarming – consumers need to be able to rely on their hospitals, often when they present to emergency they have no other option. Where else are they supposed to go?

“The national median waiting time for elective surgery has increased – it is now the longest it has been since 2001-02. In this time incentives to take up private health insurance which included a tax payer funded multi-billion dollar rebate have increased but this has failed to remedy the public hospital strains. We call again on the government to change it’s approach to private health insurance and accelerate reforms to the current arrangements so that consumers, taxpayers and the system get better value and benefit.

“Hospitals are an important part of our health system and will remain so. We need governments to cooperate on an agreement that provides longer term funding certainty.

“But hospital funding is one part of the solution. We also need to look at reform and innovation across the entire health system if we are to take the pressures off our hospitals in a sustainable way and provide care that people prefer: community based care close to where they live and work. When a part of the system needs fixing, sometimes the solution lies in taking action in another part of the system.

“This latest report card underscores the need for Australia to more aggressively explore innovative models of care that keep people well and that are designed to avoid people going into hospital. There’s enormous scope for Australia to accelerate the introduction of services such as patient-centred health care homes, better patient chronic disease self-management schemes, models of integrated transitionary care that utilise specialist doctors in different ways in the community and new ways of delivering after hours care in the community.

“These data and our prospects to look at alternatives to more expensive hospital care point to the need for a forward looking national health plan for our health system.

“CHF today reiterates our call for a national health plan to ensure that finite health funding is used in the most cost effective ways possible. As highlighted in the report, the health system is maximising the effectiveness of what funding is available, however there is only so much that can be done when the health needs of Australians are rising and the proportion of Commonwealth spending on health continues to reduce as a percentage of the total Commonwealth budget.

“Consumers bear the burden of this funding situation. Out of pocket costs are rising due to the freeze on Medicare rebates and rising health insurance premiums. These out of pocket costs increase the likelihood that consumers will resort to using emergency departments to avoid the out of pocket cost of going to their GP.

“CHF calls on the Government to take action to address these issues. A well-funded primary care system is the backbone of a healthy nation, and it’s what Australians need now more than ever.”


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Mark Metherell
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