Public hospital ED waiting times increasing – report

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New South Wales public hospitals’ Emergency Department waiting times are increasing and patients are not being treated in clinically appropriate time frames, as the public system continues to focus on attracting private health insurance revenue.

Data released by the NSW Bureau of Health Information showed high numbers of patients stranded in public hospital emergency departments waiting for treatment.

Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff said the NSW example showed a system ‘under siege’, and private hospitals could help.

“An unhealthy preoccupation with revenue targets has left NSW public hospitals faltering when they needed to step up to a surge in Emergency Department attendances and blinded them to logical solutions that are within reach.

“NSW is one of the worst offenders when it comes to harvesting revenue from privately insured patients treated in their hospitals, this was always going to happen.

“Private hospitals, however, are willing to help with the crisis if the State will send insured patients to the private system – at no cost to the taxpayer,” he said.

The report also shows a concerning increase in elective surgery wait times for those without private health insurance in NSW he said.

“The report shows 50 percent of ‘non-urgent’ elective surgery patients had a wait time of more than seven months (231 days) after being assessed as needing surgery. This is worse than a year ago.”

Mr Roff said privately insured patients needed to be offered the choice of what they pay for with their insurance – and the option to go to a private hospital for care.

“Privately insured patients stranded in public emergency departments should be given the option of transferring to a private hospital. But also, patients should be given this option when clinically appropriate from the moment they are collected by ambulance – this is something Queensland has adopted.”

He said revenue targets needed to stop being put ahead of patient care in the public hospital system.

“We know public hospitals aggressively target privately insured patients when they arrive at emergency departments. When people are sick and need care, what we need to provide them with is access to care – not holding them up in emergency to get sicker.

“Public patients should be the priority for public hospitals, not a money grab for private health insurance benefits,” he said.  

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