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Australian public hospitals 'unsafe'

17th November 2008

Australia's doctors have launched a stinging attack on the country's public hospitals, saying they are responsible for 1,500 unnecessary deaths a year.


A report by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said the public hospitals, which are funded partly by national and partly by regional governments, were unsafe, overcrowded and underfunded.

The report, entitled "Public Hospitals Flatlining", said not one public hospital was operating at a safe international occupancy level and the hospital network risked "systematic breakdown."

Doctors are calling for additional funding of US$1.9 billion from the national government.

Recent cuts in healthcare funding have resulted in a nationwide shortfall of 3,750 hospital beds, after bed capacity was slashed by 67% in the past two decades.

The report cited overfull emergency wards, with corridors lined with patients on trolleys because of the lack of beds.

Warning that hospitals will not cope with the nation's ageing population, the AMA said that in some cases, three out of four patients in emergency departments waited more than eight hours for necessary admissions.

AMA President Dr Rosanna Capolingua said that of patients needing urgent treatment one third had to wait more than half an hour.

And many of the hospitals were running well above the occupancy level of 85% considered safe by international standards.

More than 10 million Australians, or half the population, rely on public hospitals, which were risking systematic breakdowns, extended periods of "code red', and putting patient safety at risk of higher mortality and disability rates, according to the report.

Doctors are continuing to leave the public hospital system because they felt compromised in their ability to deliver best care to patients, it added.

Currently, more than half of elective surgical procedures are carried out privately, or the situation could be much worse.

Hospital operators said an ageing population, increased life expectancy and demand for higher quality care would continue to underpin growth in 2009.

Fuelled by a baby boom and the biggest migration boom in history, Australia's current population of 20 million is expected to reach between 30 to 42 million by 2056 and up to 62 million by 2101.

By 2047, a quarter of the population is projected to be aged 65 or older after the bulk of baby boomers retire.

The AMA warned that the lack of resources available to public hospitals would continue to threaten the quality and safety of the entire system, as older people have more hospital episodes with longer admissions than younger people.

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Article Information

Title: Australian public hospitals 'unsafe'
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 9176
Date Added: 17th Nov 2008


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