Rise is WA health costs scary: report

The Sustainable Health Review has found a "scary" increase in WA health spending has to be reined in.

Spending on health is almost out of control in Western Australia and had more than doubled in the last decade representing nearly $1 in every $3 the government spends, a new report has found.

The biggest driver is wages, particularly WA's doctors and nurses, with salaries for staff 15 per cent higher across the health sector than the rest of the nation, an interim report by senior Australian public servant Robyn Kruk found.

The report comes a week after former Treasury boss John Langoulant's inquiry into WA's financial crisis cited soaring spending in public sector salaries and health particularly as the nation's highest and contributing significantly to massive debt and deficit problems.

Health is the biggest cost for the state budget: employing 30,000 staff, representing almost $9 billion, or 30 per cent, and accounting for more than half of every new dollar spent between 2013/14 and 2016/17.

It is on track to reach 38 per cent of the budget in 2026.

Health only represented 24.9 per cent in 2008/09, so the growth in costs occurred under Colin Barnett's government and during the mining boom, which pushed up wages and prices.

Yet the health of West Australians has not improved, with one in two suffering from a chronic condition and two out of three adults and 20 per cent of children obese or overweight, Ms Kruk said.

Other major issues were a growing and ageing population, inequity in health outcomes, wealth disparity, mental health, and drug and alcohol issues, all of which impact upon the sustainability of the health system.

WA had nearly 20 per cent less GPs than the national average - 77 per 100,000 people compared to 95 - had less residential aged care beds and received a lower share of funding for the Medicare Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

"The rate of growth is scary, a 49 per cent increase in emergency department attendances (2005-15) and 39 per cent per cent in hospitalisations," Ms Kruk said.

"So many of those are avoidable and more has to be done to shift focus of healthcare back to prevention.

"Business as usual is not an option, the rate of growth is not sustainable."

Only 2.7 per cent of the health budget was spent on prevention of health problems, which the report said was too low and compared to seven per cent in New Zealand.

It recommends a greater focus on prevention to keep people out of hospital, expanding the emergency telehealth service model for remote patients using telecommunications to save travel and keeping salary rises down.

Health Minister Roger Cook welcomed the report and said WA health staff would get flat $1000 pay rises in line with the rest of the public sector.

Ms Kruk said WA's health system was strong and sound and well placed to improve, having had $7 billion of investment in infrastructure such as new hospitals under the Barnett government.

United Voice WA, the union for enrolled nurses and hospital support workers, said the health department wasted money and resources through using agency and casual staff.

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