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Analysis of Australia’s Public Hospital System in Release of 2023 Hospital Report Card

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The Australian Medical Association (AMA) released the 2023 Public Hospital Report Card, an analysis of Australia’s Public Hospital System. The AMA has been publishing the Public Hospital Report Card since 2007 with health data going back to 2002, to monitor the performance of public hospitals in Australia.

The report shows that 16 years after the first report was released, hospital performance in Australia is at its lowest ever, particularly in relation to wait times. The decline in performance is represented in the numbers. Over the last 30 years, the number of public hospital beds available for people aged over 65 has dropped by more than half — from 32.5 beds per 1,000 people to only 14.7. This year, emergency departments (ED) faced their toughest year since the AMA began tracking ED performance. Only 58 per cent of patients triaged as urgent were seen within the recommended 30 minutes, with one in three patients staying longer than four hours in EDs, often because there aren’t beds available in hospitals to safely admit them.

Wait times for planned surgeries continued to increase, with only 63 per cent of patients referred for semi-urgent planned surgery treated within the recommended 90 days. That is more than one in three patients waiting longer than the clinically indicated time for essential surgeries.

Planned surgery reflects the medical necessity of a surgery that will improve a patient’s health and wellbeing or diagnose a potentially life-threatening illness. These surgeries are planned and scheduled in accordance with a triage scale and the health system’s capacity. We are doing this to avoid any potential misunderstanding of the term “elective” by the broader public. These surgeries are essential.

Meanwhile, access to specialists in the public hospital system — the ‘hidden waiting list’ for outpatient appointments — continues to be a huge problem. Without these appointments, people can’t be assessed and added to the actual surgical waiting list. As a result, around 100,000 fewer people were added to the planned surgery waiting list in 2021–22.

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