Waiting lists will grow, warns David Davis

Victorians should brace for longer waits for public hospital care as the state government prepares to fight for billions of dollars in Commonwealth funding expected to pay for hundreds of beds in coming years.

On Wednesday, Victorian Health Minister David Davis said changes to Commonwealth funding of public hospital services in the federal budget were likely to amount to ”hundreds of millions and likely billions” of dollars being cut from 2017-18.

Mr Davis said although he was still working through the detail and hoped the cuts would be overturned through further negotiation, they could result in services being cut.

”There are three prospects … that there is less hospital services, that there is more funding from other sources or there is some increase in efficiency, or a mixture of all three,” he said.

While the federal government has opened the door for states to start charging people for emergency department care, Mr Davis said: ”We have no plans to do that.”

Budget papers indicate that the federal government will cut health spending by about $50 billion over the next decade, of which Victoria’s share will be about $12.5 billion. The deepest cuts are due to take effect from 2017 because of changes in how hospital funding will be calculated.

At the moment, it costs about $1.2 billion a year to run Victoria’s largest hospital service, Monash Health, which operates about 2000 acute, sub acute, mental health and aged care beds across various sites.

The changes also mean Victorian hospitals will lose about 250 sub-acute beds from June that were previously funded by the Commonwealth. Sub-acute beds are used by rehabilitation patients.

Victorian Healthcare Association chief executive Trevor Carr said the budget changes would force states to fully fund any growth in hospital capacity beyond 2017-18. Up until now, the national health reform agreement said the Commonwealth would increasingly contribute more towards growth, taking its contribution from 45 per cent of growth in hospital services in 2014-15 to 50 per cent in 2017-18.

Mr Carr said without new hospital beds, emergency departments would become clogged with patients unable to be moved to wards and operations would be cancelled. He said the introduction of a $7 fee for GP visits would also increase the workload for emergency departments. While the federal government will allow the states to charge the same fee for hospitals to provide GP-type services, Mr Carr said that would not fully cover their costs.

President of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association Dr Tony Bartone said both the federal and state governments should honour their previous promises to add capacity to the system.

”Waiting lists are now approaching 50,000 patients … we’ve basically got an Etihad stadium football crowd of people waiting for elective surgery, this will only see it blow out to an MCG-sized crowd.”

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