Australia’s private hospitals stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking on almost a third more public hospital patients than in 2019-20 to ease the burden on the public system, according to new data.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) ‘MyHospitals’ update releases data on hospital admissions in 2020-2021, the first of the COVID-19 pandemic period.
Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff said the data showed private hospitals’ significant contribution to the pandemic response.
The number of public patients treated by private hospitals increased from 236,515 to 312,527 – a rise of 32 percent in 2020-21.
“We said at the time the private hospital viability guarantee was announced that private hospitals were ‘stepping up to the plate and doing whatever is required to help the country get through this pandemic’. And the data shows that’s exactly what we did,” Mr Roff said.
“In addition, private hospitals increased the number of patients they treated in intensive care units from 36,387 separations to 52,518 separations. Private hospitals provided one in three of all ICU separations, an increase of 44 percent, and 18 percent of all separations where patients required continuous ventilatory support, up from 16.5 percent.”
Mr Roff said the data did not separate COVID-19 ICU days from those occurring from other surgery, but the significant increase showed the public system would not have coped without private hospital assistance.
“Despite private hospitals getting back to performing procedures as quickly as possible following restrictions on surgery, with surgical interventions up almost 15 percent from 1,473,605 admissions in 2019-20, increasing to 1,691,215 in 2020-21, much of this progress has already been wiped out,” he said.
“Data released by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority last week showed more than 390,000 anticipated private hospital admissions in the past two years did not occur. Over 100,000 of these ‘missing episodes’ were added in the first three months of 2022 alone, further increasing elective surgery wait times.
“All the gains made in reducing the elective surgery backlog in 2021 have been wiped out by surgery restrictions put in place during the Omicron wave. Now we must start again.”
Mr Roff said the elective surgery backlog would continue to be a concern in both public and private hospitals for the foreseeable future, with the issue exacerbated by critical health workforce shortages.
“Addressing health workforce shortages will be the first and most important issue we raise when we meet with the incoming Health Minister, Mark Butler,” Mr Roff said.
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