Deliver more beds, not more words: AMA

By Ju Yeon Jung

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has argued governments’ attempt to curtail their funding contribution to the public health system is putting millions of lives at risk.

The AMA’s new public hospital report card showed occupancy levels of many hospitals were more than 95 per cent, well over 85 per cent safe occupancy levels.

No improvement was identified in access for urgent emergency department patients, with only 65 per cent seen within recommended times.

The report said the deteriorating situation mainly stemmed from the lack of beds.

“There is no compelling evident that the decline in hospital performance is due to a rise in inappropriate patient presentations.

“Access block is occurring because insufficient resources have been made available to meet the genuine demand,” it said.

The decline in the Federal Government’s share of public hospital funding was a recurring issue, falling from 50 per cent two decades ago to below 40 per cent.

The report said there should be an initial injection of $3 billion to re-establish the 50-50 contribution. This funding would supply an additional 3750 beds, which would keep hospital occupancy at 85 per cent. 

It also called for appropriate indexation of the Australian Health Care Agreements at 8-9 per cent per annum in order to ensure the performance of hospitals.

AMA president, Rosanna Capolingua said the COAG meeting next week should put an end to the failing public hospital system.

“The Rudd Government has acknowledged shortfalls in public health and confirmed its intention to ‘deliver dramatic improvements in health care,” Dr Capolingua said.

“Well, the commitment is welcome, but COAG is crunch time.

“Corridors are lined with patients on trolleys because beds are simply not available – one report showed three in four patients in emergency departments who needed to be admitted waited more than eight hours,” she said.

She said it was not an option for government to continue to slash public hospital expenditure in the hope that service levels can be sustained through productivity improvements.

“This upcoming COAG meeting provides an historic opportunity to set this right, to provide the funding that is desperately needed and to recommit to the ideal that made Australia’s health system the best in the world. There can be no higher priority for government,” she said.

“Doctors and their patients around the country are looking to the Rudd government to deliver on health. We need more beds, not more words, and we need them now.”

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