Australia’s public hospital performance problems
Missed targets, reduced capacity and poor funding.
Bed capacities, emergency department and surgery waiting times, treatments and funding are sluggish, stagnant or in decline when compared against key measures, findings from the latest public hospitals performance report reveal.
The Australian Medical Association's (AMA) annual Public Hospital Report Card 2017 found these inefficiencies were having a direct and unsatisfactory effect on the administration of patient care.
According to the report, one of the baseline measures to determine hospital capacity is to compare the number of available beds against the size of the population. Measuring those aged 65 and over provides a more transparent and reliable overview of public hospital bed ratios.
Total bed numbers increased by 1,773 in 2014/15, improving the ratio per 1000 people from 2.51 in 2013/14 to 2.55 in 2014/15. However, this ratio has remained almost unchanged since 2009/10 and has contracted by 42% since 1993/94.
From 2012/13, all Australian governments set a target stating 80% of emergency department (ED) presentations were to be seen within clinically recommended triage times. Performance against this target peaked at 70% during the same financial year and have continued to decline since. In 2015/16 just 67% of ED patients classified as urgent were seen within the recommended 30 minutes.
Similarly, national emergency targets require 90% of all ED patients to be transferred from or referred to a different hospital, or discharged within four hours. In 2015/16, only 73% of all emergency department visits were completed in less than four hours. This figure has not changed in the last three years.
The AMA report also discovered national median wait times for all elective surgeries has been steadily rising over the last 10 years. In 2015/16 this figure (the time within which 50% of all patients were admitted) increased to 37 days, the longest median waiting time since 2001/02.
Elective surgery waiting times were also well below target. The AMA says this data understates actual treatment duration because the time patients wait – from when they are referred by their general practitioner to actually seeing a specialist for assessment – isn't counted. Some Aussies wait longer for assessment than they do for surgery.
In a state-by-state breakdown, there was a slight improvement in elective surgery waiting times in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory during 2015/16.
It's not only public hospitals that are experiencing problems.
Premium payments and issues regarding the provision of oral advice were responsible for the greatest number of complaints to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman (PHIO) in the December quarter 2016.
Health insurance premiums are set to rise by an average of 4.84 in 2017, encouraging many Australians to switch providers.
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