Elective surgery episodes of care have bounced back in Australia’s private hospitals, but workforce shortages continue to limit capacity in some parts of the country, the latest data shows.
The latest Australian Prudential Regulation Authority data on the December 2022 quarter released in March showed almost a million episodes of care occurred in private hospitals (987,243 episodes) an increase of 7.3 percent on the previous quarter and up 4.4 percent over the year.
It is a positive result for the private hospital sector, with episodes of care in the December quarter 2022 higher than the same quarter pre-pandemic (December 2019), up by 49,129 episodes.
Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff said the bump was welcome as elective surgery episodes had struggled to get back to pre-COVID levels, particularly because of workforce shortages.
“In November 2022 we reported a huge half a million ‘missing episodes’ of care in private hospitals since 2020. So, while it is pleasing that activity levels are bouncing back, there is still some way to go to address the backlog.
“However, private hospitals are still struggling to find enough staff to fill those capacity gaps that are constraining care across the entire health system. The Government needs to act, and act now, to make Australia an attractive place for health workers to come.
Mr Roff said there was a shortfall of 8,000 nurses in Australia’s private hospitals and there were several changes the Government could make to ease the path for overseas health workers.
“Australia is competing with countries like France and Canada who have significantly reduced the time it takes for a health care migrant to apply for residency in their countries, making them a much more attractive destination than Australia for people looking to build a home and a life in a new country. APHA continues to encourage the Government to make similar changes so we can attract the workforce here.”
Mr Roff said private health insurers got a shot in the arm in the most recent quarter, with a further increase in Australians taking up health insurance hospital cover. Premium revenue increased 1.8 percent in the year and 250,313 Australians took up hospital cover in that period.
“In a positive sign, hospital policy owners in the 20-49 year old age group increased by almost 93,000.
“On top of this, health insurance companies made further savings from changes to the Prostheses List that came into effect in July 2022.
“APHA looks forward to yet to materialise efforts promised by the private health insurance lobby group to assist private hospitals with big jumps in operating costs including recruitment, medical supplies, power and food.
“Today’s data shows private health insurance companies are well placed to properly fund the services their members receive at private hospitals. If health insurance companies want to have a product to sell in the future, they need to use their windfall gains from COVID-19 to recognise the increased costs of providing high quality patient care,” he said.