Public hospitals: waiting times up, number of beds down

Peter Terlato 25 October 2016

hospital waiting room

Not meeting required performance targets.

The Australian Medical Association's (AMA) Public Hospital Report Card suggests Australia has "reached a crisis point" in public hospital funding, reflected in deteriorating bed number ratios and unimproved or worsening waiting times.

Comparing the number of available beds against the size of the population provides a mixed result, given the elderly are more likely to have hospital episodes than younger people.

Even so, despite total public hospital bed numbers increasing slightly in 2013/14 (256 extra beds year-on-year), the ratio of bed numbers per 1,000 of the general population dropped from 2.57 in 2012-13 to 2.51 in 2013/14.

This ratio has not seen any improvement since 2009/10.

The number of available public hospital beds per 1,000 population aged 65 and over has fallen 42% since 1993/94.

For emergency departments to provide efficient and timely care, performance targets advocate that at least 80% of emergency triage patients be seen within 30 minutes of arrival and 90% of patients leave the emergency department within four hours.

However in 2014/15, only 68% of emergency patients classified as urgent were seen within the recommended time frame and just 73% of all emergency department visits were completed in four hours or less.

Elective surgery waiting times reduced by 24 hours in 2014/15, returning to levels last seen in 2009/10. Despite these improvements, national median waiting times for all elective surgery have increased over the last decade.

No single Australian state's public hospitals met all the recommended performance targets for access, waiting times and surgery in 2014/15.

The best performer was the Northern Territory, which saw improvement in emergency department waiting times and elective surgery waiting times, although these did not meet national targets.

The only state hospital system to meet any of the national targets was NSW for elective surgery.

State/TerritoryImprovement in emergency department waiting timeMet National Emergency Access TargetImprovement in elective surgery waiting timeMet national elective surgery target
NSWNONONOYES
VICNONOYESNO
QLDNONOYESNO
WANONONONO
SANONONONO
TASNONONONO
ACTNONOYESNO
NTYESNOYESNO

Trying to decide which hospital option is better for you? It's sensible to compare public and private cover, consider wait times and safety and understand how to claim health insurance when visiting.

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