UK hospital crisis 'could happen here'

14 January, 2015

The crisis currently gripping the British health system – where thousands of patients are being forced to wait up to 12 hours for emergency care – could strike here, AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis has warned.

Britain's National Health Service has been plunged into crisis as patients swamp emergency departments, causing blow-outs in waiting times and forcing hospitals around the country to declare major incidents, cancel operations, call in extra staff and ration access to care.

Dr Parnis said that although there had been an influx of patients with seasonal illnesses, most of the strain was down to cuts to general practice funding and community care.

"In the UK, there has been an explosion in demand for GPs – they are seeing 120,000 more patients each day than they were five years ago – but Government funding for their services has plunged to an all-time low," he said.

"If people can't get in to see their GP, they will often end up at hospital, increasing to the pressure on already-strained emergency departments and greatly adding to the Government's health bill."

Warning about 'disastrous' Medicare cuts

Dr Parnis said the British experience was a worrying portent of what could happen here if the Federal Government pushed ahead with its disastrous changes to Medicare.

The changes, unveiled just two weeks before Christmas, include a massive $20 cut to the Medicare rebate for GP Level B consultations lasting less than 10 minutes, from $37.05 to $16.95, which is due to come into effect on 19 January.

In addition, the Government plans a further $5 cut to GP rebates from 1 July, on top of a near-six year freeze on Medicare rebate indexation.

Dr Parnis said the changes were an assault on general practice that would inevitably lead to increased out-of-pocket expenses for patients and higher health costs.

"As the UK experience shows, when governments cut investment in primary health care, it means more people end up going to hospital, they are sicker, and they are much more expensive to treat," he said.

"We must not go down this path."