Public hospitals in cycle of crisis, AMA warns

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a report on Friday detailing how funding problems have failed to arrest a steady and sustained decline in hospital performance over the past decade.

The analysis, titled Public Hospitals: Cycle of Crisis, paints a disturbing picture of unmet demand for health services, fewer hospital beds, overcrowded emergency departments and longer waits for elective surgery.

The modelling in the report shows there will be dire consequences if governments fail tackle funding shortfalls.

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The report predicts that hospital beds will increasingly be taken up by emergency admissions, which will double as a percentage of hospital beds by 2030-31 and will result in even longer waits for elective surgery such as cancer diagnostic procedures.

The report also makes it clear that the funding crisis is quite separate from the pandemic, with the negative consequences already in full swing before COVID-19 arrived.

The analysis of the funding arrangements reveals that they are not fit for purpose and fail to meet the demands of our growing and ageing population.

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AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid said the report was sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and every state and territory leader as the findings require immediate action.

“Our analysis couldn’t be clearer about what’s in store for Australian patients in public hospitals if governments keep their heads in the sand,” Dr Khorshid said.

“Every part of the system is clogged with people who are waiting to be treated, from queuing ambulances outside the EDs (emergency departments), those waiting inside the EDs, to people waiting for elective surgery.

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“Australians expect to receive treatment when they need it. They expect an ambulance to turn up when they call one, and they expect to be able to get into the hospital when they arrive,” he said.

“At the moment, these expectations can’t be met and that is a symptom of a public hospital system in crisis. Repurposing resources in a constrained system by stopping one type of healthcare in favour of another will only lock us further into cycles of crisis.

“Likewise, arguing over who spends what on a funding model that doesn’t currently include what our hospitals and patients need is nothing but distraction politics,” Dr Khorshid said.

“We need a national partnership approach, where federal and state and territory governments work together to implement structural reform to focus on public hospitals seeing people on time and providing quality care.”

The problems in public healthcare also extend to intensive care beds, with almost 200 fewer ICU beds available this year than at the beginning of the pandemic, according to the findings of a survey by the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society.

Dr Edward Litton, lead author of the ICU report, told The Guardian that bed numbers were down because of the effect the pandemic had had on the hospital workforce.

“Undoubtedly beds are down, and those are staffed operational beds, and I think that’s a consequence of COVID on our workforce, on our critical care workforce,” Dr Litton said.

Do you think public hospitals should receive more funding from federal and state governments? Has the pandemic highlighted how important a properly funded healthcare system is in Australia? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Ben



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