Victorians face a huge rise in elective surgery waiting times because the state government has failed to address the major problem of public hospitals poaching private patients, says Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff.
Responding to newspaper reports that new budget cuts will lead to longer waits – by as much as 98 percent at one hospital – Mr Roff said Health Minister Jenny Mikakos had yet to heed warnings from Victoria's own Auditor-General about allowing such a “cash grab” on private cover.
Mrs Mikakos has said the record number of winter flu cases had led to emergency department patients being prioritised over elective surgery or other patients.
However, seasonal factors only highlighted the real issue – which could be exacerbated by the budget cuts, Mr Roff said.
“About one in eight Victorian public hospital beds are occupied by privately insured patients. In the year ending 30 June 2019, there was a minuscule reduction of 0.8 percent in health insurance benefits collected by Victorian public hospitals compared to the previous year, indicating collecting private revenue is still the priority, not public patient need.”
“If the Victorian Health Minister was serious about ensuring public patients were not disadvantaged, she should have demanded that public hospitals transfer insured patients to the private sector so waiting lists did not blow out during periods of increased seasonal demand.
Mr Roff said that the Victorian public hospital system is so addicted to private patient revenue they are willing to let public patients suffer on ever increasing waiting lists to feed their addiction, rather than putting patients first.
“This indicates that collecting private revenue is still the priority, not public patient need,” Mr Roff added. “Victorian public hospitals are continuing to recruit privately-insured Australians to use their private health benefits in the public system. In turn, the public hospital puts them ahead of the waiting list for public patients, who have no other means to access healthcare.”
“The Auditor-General report highlighted a perverse set of circumstances where Department of Health and Human Services’ policy settings have led to practices against the interests of an efficient system and put patients last.
“This practice has become the norm across many states and it is Australia’s public patients who are suffering as a result,” he said.