Top docs call for 'bedwatch scheme'

AUSTRALIA’S top doctors are calling on the Federal Government to introduce a “bedwatch scheme” to ensure state funding actually leads to more beds in hospitals.

The Australian Medical Association 2008-09 financial year report card released on Wednesday has found new bed numbers increased by only 11 across the whole country.

Federal President Dr Andrew Pesce said this falls well short of the AMA’s estimate that 3,870 additional beds are needed for the public hospital system to operate at a safe 85 per cent average bed occupancy rate.

“The number of public hospital beds has been slashed by 45 per cent over the past 20 years and by more than 67 per cent since the late 1960s,” he said.

“There are now only 19.6 public hospital beds for every 1,000 people over the age of 65.”

The number of hospital beds per 1,000 Queenslanders was 2.4, lower than 2.5 per 1,000 population in 2007-08.

Although the number of beds per 1,000 population hovers around the national average of 2.5 beds per 1,000 population, Queensland’s population is the second fastest growing population in Australia.

Dr Pesce said Queensland would find it difficult to meet the new National Healthcare Agreement performance benchmark of 80 per cent occupancy rate by 2012-13.

“Public hospitals will continue to struggle to meet emergency department targets unless capacity in all areas of public hospitals is expanded to allow patients in emergency departments to be admitted more quickly,” he said.

“Department patients being seen within recommended times, but that the system is still light years away from reaching the targets set by COAG in April 2010.”

The report card also found there are currently too few clinical training places for medical students, interns, prevocational and vocational trainees nationally.

This is a concern because of the growing number of medical school graduates coming through the system.

Across Queensland

- There has been a modest improvement in Queensland emergency department performance in 2008-09, with 59 per cent of Triage Category 3 patients seen within recommended times, up from 54 per cent in 2007-08.

- Emergency department attendances rose 2.7 per cent from the previous year and emergency admissions rose by 5.6 per cent 16.

- The percentage of Category 2 elective surgery patients seen within the recommended time declined to 81 per cent in 2008-09 and continues a downward trend from 2004-05.

- There has been no improvement in the median waiting times for elective surgery.

 - Although elective surgery waiting times in Queensland have continued to lengthen since 2002-03, they are well below the national median waiting time of 34 days.

- The total number of available public hospital beds was 10,805, an increase of only 154 beds from the previous year.

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