Australian hospitals in constant state of emergency, AMA says

The federal government has defended its public health funding following a new report from the AMA claiming hospitals across the country are over-stretched and over-stressed.

The Australian Medical Association said its 2017 report card, released on Friday, painted a bleak picture of public hospitals choking under the weight of demand.

“It paints a picture of a system that is, at best, plateauing and, according to many metrics, going backwards,” AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said.

“What we’re dealing with are doctors, nurses, other health professionals that are being asked to do more with less. They can’t do that, and that’s reflected in this data," he said.

“Patients must be at risk if they are waiting longer to be seen.”

Among the findings was that just two-thirds of emergency patients classed as urgent were being seen within the recommended 30 minutes time period, well below the 80 per cent target.

As well, the average waiting time for elective surgery rose dramatically from 27 days in 2001-2002 to 37 days in 2015-2016.

The ratio of available beds for people aged over 65 also dropped by nearly half in the past two decades.

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said the states were under enormous pressure due to a lack of Commonwealth funding.

“It’s time Malcolm Turnbull funded our public hospitals," Ms King said.

"Patients are suffering across the country and today is very much a wake-up call for the government."

But a spokesperson for new Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Commonwealth funding had been increasing by approximately $1 billion per year.

“Public hospital funding is forecast to grow from $13.8 billion in 2013-2014 to $21.2 billion in 2019-2020,” the spokesperson said.

“This represents an increase of $7.4 billion since the Coalition came into government – or more than 50 per cent.

“One of the most significant factors in waiting times for public hospitals is the practice by some states of increasing the number of private patients in public hospitals.

"Minister Hunt will be taking this up with each of the states."

The AMA also called for a better approach to sorting out funding arrangements.

“We need to work out a way of having this conversation,” Dr Gannon said.

“We cannot have an annual bunfight at COAG (Council of Australian Governments) with the states and the Commonwealth saying that it’s your fault, no it’s your fault - that is unedifying and unproductive.

“Spending in the health system is a cost, but it’s an investment in the productivity of our country.”