Australia's largest non–government provider of public hospitals has set federal and state/territory leaders the challenge of meeting three key public health–related criteria for today's COAG retreat to be considered a success.
St Vincent's Health Australia – the not–for–profit health and aged care organisation which runs St Vincent's public hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne along with four other public health facilities – said leaders needed to emerge from today's retreat with responses to three critical questions.
"The first is that they must achieve some level of consensus on adequately funding the future growth of public hospitals. We cannot let this deadlock continue," said Toby Hall, St Vincent's Health Australia's CEO.
"If we allow the current impasse on health funding to drag on, public hospitals will eventually be forced to ration staff, beds and procedures which means longer waiting times.
"Secondly, whatever health funding model they choose to pursue, it must be underpinned with a firm commitment to protect low income and vulnerable Australians.
"Thirdly and finally, they must use the opportunity to commit to a more substantial process of negotiating a long–term vision and agreed outcomes for our health system, both of which are currently lacking."
The 2014 Federal Budget saw the Commonwealth reconsider its contribution to funding the costs of hospital growth from 2017–18.
While debate continues about the decision's impact, Treasury's own analysis says it will remove a projected $57 billion from the public health system over 10 years.
The Commonwealth has said it will continue to increase health funding in line with inflation and population growth.
However, other factors also drive increases in the volume of health services such as consumer demand, an ageing population, the burden of chronic disease, and increasing complexity of care.
The Victorian Government has announced, if things stand, the state's public hospitals will receive $13.6 billion less than expected over the next 10 years.
NSW expects to miss out on $1.5bn in health funding over the two years to 2018–19.
"For St Vincent's Health's two major public hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, $1 million equates to around 1300 Emergency Department attendances, 200 palliative care treatments or close to 3300 MRI scans," said Mr Hall.
"It equates to the annual cost of running six beds in a general ward or employing 11 nurses; 4,330 dialysis treatments or just over 900 chemotherapy treatments.
"If we're forced to ration staff, beds and procedures, vulnerable Australians will bear the brunt because of their greater reliance on public health care.
"Our leaders must leave their entrenched positions and put everything on the table to achieve a funding solution.
"One thing I'm keen for them to consider is asking wealthier Australians to pay more for accessing public health care.
"If our leaders leave today's retreat without meeting these three criteria then I think we're entitled to be very disappointed.
"We can no longer continue on the path we're on," said Mr Hall.