Landmark deal sees integration of private, public health systems

The federal government has partnered with private hospitals in the fight against COVID-19 in an unprecedented move for the nation’s health system.

The deal will see private hospitals integrate with the public health system, providing beds, essential equipment and workforce during the pandemic.

In return, the Commonwealth will guarantee the viability of the nation’s 657 private and not-for-profit hospitals.

Professor Paul Arbon

“The partnership between the Australian Government, the states and the private hospital system will deliver additional capacity for the Australian system,” Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Sunday.

For their part, private hospitals will provide infrastructure, ventilators and protective great and workforce to state systems and the federal government.

They will also treat COVID-19 patients, carry out some elective surgery and provide ICU services and quarantine accommodation.

The states are currently inking COVID-19 agreements with private hospitals, with the Commonwealth paying have the cost.

Mr Hunt said the measure is expected to cost an uncapped $1.3 billion over the next six months.

35,000 beds and 100,000 staff

The move has the full backing of the Australian Private Hospitals Association. CEO Michael Roff said it would provide access to the 35 per cent of Australian ICU beds within the private sector as the pandemic escalates.

“This is about private hospitals stepping up to the plate and doing whatever is required to help the country get through this pandemic,” he said.

“We have heard the word unprecedented a lot in the past few months, and what private hospitals are agreeing to here is unprecedented.”

Mr Roff said hospital capacity would be offered under a cost recovery basis so 35,000 beds, 100,000 staff including 57,000 nurses are available and integrated into the pandemic response to create a single health system.

He said the deal also means there will be a private hospital system on the other side of the crisis to deal with any resulting backlog of elective surgery.

The partnership also has the support of not-for-profit health provider group Catholic Health Australia, Day Hospitals Australia, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the Council of Medical College Presidents.

An essential move

Professor Paul Arbon, Director of the Torrens Resilience Institite at Flinders University said it was an essential, if extraordinary move.

“I think it’s an essential move,” he told Government News.

“The most significant impact of these kinds of emergencies is always lack of capacity, and this accesses about a third of the intensive care beds to the country.

“I don’t think it’s ever happened before. The systems have been separated for reasons to do with competition and commerce and independence, so it’s a really quite exceptional step.”

Professor Arbon said he would like to see the arrangement lasting in longer term change to the interface between the two systems.

“I would certainly say it will be a very outcome if private health organisations can join up with normal disaster emergency arrangements, like the bushfires,” he says.

“That kind of growing relationship might be a very good thing.”

Meanwhile, in NSW the government has approved new planning orders to allow current and former government buildings to be repurposed into health service premises.

They will also enable construction of government health projects to operate around the clock.

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