Private hospital recovery continues but still has some distance to go

Workforce shortages continue to hamper private hospitals in their efforts to return to pre-COVID-19 elective surgery levels, according to Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO Michael Roff. The March quarter data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority shows that although episodes of care in the private sector dropped compared to the previous quarter, the post-COVID recovery is showing some signs of promise.

What were the findings of the survey?

There were 920,738 episodes in private hospitals in the March 2023 quarter, slightly higher than pre-pandemic when there were 873,589. Mr Roff said while this is an increase in pre-covid activity on face value, it is not on par with anticipated episodes of care for this quarter.

“If the pre-covid growth trend had continued, we would have expected 927,061 admissions this quarter compared to the 920,738 that actually occurred. While the rise is promising it is still not enough to meet demand and workforce remains the key limiter to a full return.”

How can the government help boost the sector?

Michael Roff, CEO of Australian Private Hospitals Association
Michael Roff, Chief Executive Officer of Australian Private Hospitals Association

Mr Roff said while the Federal Government had indicated steps to boost migration, it was time to increase the pace of workforce reform. “Currently we have various states offering incentives and bonuses for nurses to work in their public hospital systems,” Mr Roff said. 

“This is cannabilising the scarce workforce rather than building for the future. We call on the upcoming meeting of ministers to work together on a system-wide national approach to boost Australia’s health workforce and abandon populist measures of dubious effectiveness.”

Despite workforce issues in the sector, Mr Roff said Australians value the high-quality care they experience in the private hospital sector, as evidenced by the increase in people taking up private health insurance hospital cover. “Private health insurers no doubt welcome the increase in income from the membership boost along with the $52m in savings they have accumulated since the first tranche of Prostheses List cuts were introduced last July,” he said.