This paper argues that there is no bigger issue facing the Australian health system than what to do about public hospitals.
Public hospitals provide 60% of the hospital care needed in Australia each year and treat the majority of the oldest, sickest and most complex patients. They also consumed $28 billion in 2007–08. This represents approximately 40% of federal and state health spending, or just under one-third of the total amount spent on health care in Australia.
Despite the ever-increasing sums that Australian governments pour into public hospitals each year, waiting times for elective surgery grow even longer. Emergency departments continue to be clogged with patients forced to endure long waits on trolleys in overcrowded corridors before being admitted to a hospital bed.
Until there is major structural reform of the governance, funding, and delivery of taxpayer-funded hospital services, the public hospital system will continue to monopolise and lock up billions of valuable health dollars in the least productive segment of the health sector.