“Public hospitals are facing a growing funding crisis. This crisis is not generated by hospitals themselves, rather, it is a crisis created by the political process, and political and budgetary decisions.”
This year’s Australian Medical Association (AMA) Public Hospital Report Card is damning of health funding cuts and the subsequent effects on emergency department waiting times, hospital targets and bed number ratios.
It states that Commonwealth funding for public hospitals has been reduced by $423 million for the three years to 2017-18, with a further reduction of $31 million in 2018-19 announced in last year’s Budget update.
“By any measure, we have reached a crisis point in public hospital funding.”
Capacity, waiting times and targets
Of emergency department patients classed as urgent in 2014-15, only 68% were seen within the recommended 30 minutes – significantly short of the clinically recommended target of 80%.
Results were similar for the National Emergency Access Target (NEAT) of 90% of all ED patients either being admitted, referred or discharged within four hours. Despite a commitment to reach this target by the end of 2015, only 73% of ED visits were completed within four hours in 2014-15, with no improvement made on the previous period.
Total public hospital bed numbers increased by 256 in 2013-14, but fell short of keeping up with population growth. As a ratio per 1,000 of the general population, there was a decline in available beds from 2.57 to 2.51 between 2012-13 and 2013-14. Reviewing the ratio of beds available per 1,000 people aged over 65 years, the numbers have decreased by 42% since 1993-94.
Where to from here?
Last year alone there were over 7.4 million presentations to public hospital EDs across Australia. With an ageing population and a steady increase of people suffering from complex and chronic illnesses, hospitals are experiencing a surge in demand for ED services – as much as 15% in some high growth metropolitan areas.
Four years on from the implementation of the NEAT, many hospitals are now trying to refocus on ensuring high quality patient care whilst maintaining improved performance targets. The Balancing Performance with Quality in Emergency Departments conference, taking place in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney next February, will provide strategies for doing more with less, and ensuring patient-centered care in a time of increasing demand. Book your place by November 25th to save $300 on ticket prices.