The Australian Private Hospitals Association has welcomed a review of private practice arrangements in Victoria’s public hospitals in response to the findings of a report from the state's auditor-general.
CEO Michael Roff said the report highlighted a "perverse set of circumstances" where policy settings are effectively de-prioritising patients and one-in-eight Victorian public hospital beds is now given over to the treatment of private patients.
“The report makes plain the DHHS views private work as a revenue source," said Mr Roff. "Public hospitals are given specific targets and incentivised to coerce patients into private treatment. They are supposed to ensure that patients give consent – according to the Auditor-General – this is not happening.
“The argument from the DHHS that allowing private practice in public hospitals is a recruitment and retention tool is also debunked in the report.”
The report says any practice of prioritising private patients puts the state in breach of the National Health Reform Agreement.
“There is plenty of additional data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that tells us that private patients are given preferential treatment ahead of public patients in the public system. The median wait time for elective surgery in Victorian public hospitals is 30 days but private patients in public hospitals get surgery in a median of just 19 days.
“It is obvious that the Auditor-General agrees, based on the recommendation for the Department to provide guidance to health services not to do this. Not only is it against the agreement with the Federal Government, it is also against the principles of Medicare,” said Mr Roff.
The review announced in response to the report will be led by Professor David Watters.
“It’s particularly good to read that Professor Watters will be reviewing hospital practices to ensure they are clinically appropriate and adhere to the principle of access based on clinical need," continued Mr Roff.
Mr Roff said he hoped the review had "some teeth" to deliver change.
“Public hospitals see dollar signs walking in the door when a privately insured patient walks in. They bend over backwards for them, dropping excesses and out-of-pocket costs, offering private rooms and promising faster access to treatment."
The APHA boss said he was glad Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services had accepted the recommendations of the auditor-general’s report, but the issue needed better oversight.
“All States and Territories should follow Victoria’s example and really examine this issue with a view to acting on it. Not just because it is required under the National Health Reform Agreement, but also to help those Australians left languishing on elective surgery waiting lists.
“The fact is the median wait time for elective surgery in Victorian public hospitals is 30 days but private patients in public hospitals get surgery in a median of just 19 days. “This is not how the public system is supposed to work and it must change,” added Mr Roff.