Can’t get an appointment? Here’s why

Waiting lists for specialists in the public health system are getting longer and researchers believe it’s because they’re spending too much time in the private sector.

In research published in the Australian Medical Review, eight different groups of specialists, including eye surgeons, ear nose and throat (ENT) specialists and cardiologists, were analysed for the amount of time they spent with private patients. Eye surgeons, ENTs and rheumatologists spent 70 per cent of their working week with private patients, while cardiologists and gastroenterologists spent 60 per cent. Neurosurgeons split their time 50/50, and if you need to see a kidney specialist you’re in luck, as they tend to spend more time in the public sector.

Doctors who work 30 per cent more in the private sector than the public earn about $100,000 more.

Professor Gary Freed has been studying Australia’s health system over the last five years, in particular whether doctors’ division of work was matching the needs of the patient. He believes that doctors who favour the private sector may well be leading to increased public sector waiting lists. There are also inefficiencies in the public system caused by patients having to see different specialists each appointment.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) Presicent, Dr Michael Gannon, said he felt bureaucratic intervention was leading doctors to leave the public system altogether.

“There are quite burdensome continuing education requirements. For example, every year in the public system, even as someone who works there part time, I have to pass education modules on dealing with violent patients, hand washing modules, cultural competence modules,” he said.

“High levels of managerialism have reduced morale in the public hospital system.”

Dr Gannon, who is an obstetrician working in both sectors disagrees with Prof Freed’s assertion that the current system was inefficient.

What do you think? Have you experienced long public health waiting times to see a specialist? Do you feel that the continuation of care is not sufficient in the public sector? Do you think the private sector offers better care?