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'Continuing decline' in public hospital capacity: report

01 May, 2014

The latest Australian Hospital Statistics 2012-13 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows a continuing decline in public hospital capacity, particularly for patients over 65 who have more hospital treatment than young people.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Steve Hambleton said last week (1 May) the report is further evidence public hospitals must be spared from any budget cuts.

Dr Hambleton said hospitals around the country are under enormous pressure to meet growing demand from an ageing population and greater numbers of people of all ages with complex and chronic conditions that require hospital care.

"Our public hospitals need greater support and funding, not cuts," he said.

"We have to build hospital capacity to meet community demand and to teach the next generation of doctors.

"Public hospitals could be an easy target for the Commission of Audit to target for savings and to privatise services.

"The AMA urges the government to ignore any recommendations to cut public hospital funding or services."

The AIHW report shows the number of public hospital beds per capita, which is the strongest measure of public hospital capacity, has declined slightly.

Public hospital bed numbers per 1000 of the population aged 65 and over has reduced to 17.8 in 2012-13 from 18.6 in 2011-12.

Total public hospital bed numbers reduced by 234 in 2012-13, in-patient separations remained static, and there was no improvement in the medium waiting time for elective surgery.

Bed numbers as a ratio per 1000 of the general population have reduced to 2.59 in 2012-13 from 2.6 in 2011-12.  This ratio has not improved since 2009-10.

Dr Hambleton said the figures show that our public hospitals are clearly not keeping pace with demand.

"We have maintained roughly the same bed-to-population numbers over recent years, while there has been increasing demand for hospital services. This is why public hospital waiting times are long."

In contrast, Australia's private hospitals have increased their capacity since 2009-10, with increased bed numbers to keep pace with demand.

There has been a substantial increase in outpatient care – 18.1 million services in 2012-13, which is a 7.2 increase from previous year.

The AIHW calendar year data for the National Emergency Access Target (NEAT) for 2013 shows that no State or Territory met their target for treating emergency department patients within four hours in 2013, with five jurisdictions 10 per cent or more below target.

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