More Australians will be waiting longer for essential elective surgery as new data shows ‘missing’ admissions in private hospitals have kept increasing since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The latest data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) shows the gap between expected insured admissions, or ‘episodes of care’, in the private sector and what has been delivered is growing steadily.
It has risen to a total of 445,000 with a further 55,000 missing episodes in the June 2022 quarter and 145,000 added in the past 12 months.
Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff said it was a worrying trend, with state governments looking to private hospitals to help with public elective waiting lists.
“During this quarter there were no elective surgery restrictions, but private hospital capacity continued to be limited by staff shortages and absenteeism due to COVID-19 and flu,” he said.
“With infection rates declining, it is hoped we can begin to address this backlog as we move into spring, but it is going to take some time to remedy.”
Mr Roff said it was encouraging to see the increase in hospital cover membership, which went up 2.1 percent (235,699 people) during the year.
The increase of 1.8 percent in people aged 20-49 years old taking up hospital cover was also welcomed.
“It is always encouraging to see Australians recognise the value of having access to the high-quality care private hospitals provide,” Mr Roff said.
“This may, in part, be due to the massive waiting times in the public sector and people wanting to know they can access health care more rapidly through Australia’s private hospitals.”
While the faith in the private sector was welcomed, Mr Roff said private hospitals needed access to more health workers in order to provide enough care to meet current and future demand.
“The private hospital sector workforce crisis continues to grow. Internal surveys from Australia’s private hospitals show about 8,000 nurses are needed to fill positions around the country, and in the short term we need to increase skilled migration to address this shortfall,” he said.
“There are a number of solutions, including doing more to make Australia an attractive place to come to by increasing residency and citizenship opportunities. In addition, cutting the fees for health workers to register in Australia and making it easier for employers to bring people here by reducing red tape are all options we would like the Government to act on.
“Australia also needs to think of the future Australian workforce and training the next generation of nurses. This is an area where private hospitals already offer training programs and have capacity to do more.”
Mr Roff noted some elements of the usual APRA report were missing in this quarter’s data – mainly the ‘deferred claims liability’ statistics, showing the amount of money private health insurers are ‘holding’ for surgeries anticipated, but not yet undertaken due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This number has been regularly reported since the June 2020 quarterly data but is no longer available.
Read more: Private hospitals take on public load during COVID-19