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Patient wait for paid beds

THE Federal Government’s push to increase participation in private health funds has had an unforseen outcome, with many private patients unable to secure beds in the hospital of their choice.

Instead, many privately insured patients face the possibility of joining waiting lists for beds at busy metropolitan hospitals.

The rise in private health insurance was driven by last year’s Federal Government incentive package. Private hospitals now have been forced to consider investing in additional wards, refurbishment and home-based strategies for patients who don’t require acute care.

St John of God Subiaco director of nursing and clinical services, Dianne Le Cornu, said customers at St John’s expected to get into the hospital quickly and without anyone mention-ing a waiting list.

“There is pressure on our beds here and it does seem to be related to the Government’s incentive for private health cover,” Ms Le Cornu said.

“At St John’s we don’t have huge waiting lists, but that requires a lot of juggling. We are looking at a major refurbishment for the day surgery area and we are looking at implementing home services.”

The problem is compounded when the patients are elderly and unable to return to appropriate independent living arrangements.

Bethesda Hospital chief executive officer Brian Thomson said the winter months traditionally were very busy, keeping the medical ward running at full capacity.

“The winter months are our heavy season and our medical ward is full. I don’t envisage that changing for a couple of months. Careful bed management is ongoing,” Mr Thom-son said.

“We’re really seeing a much greater percentage of aged people and they’re getting sicker, and the complications make it particularly difficult to treat them quickly.

“On our surgical ward the average length of stay is 1.7 days ... on our medical ward the average length of stay is 9.9 days.”

Australian Private Hospital Assoc-iation executive director Michael Roff said most of the WA private hospitals currently were working to capacity and hospitals were looking at increasing their capacity or introducing some new models of care.

“We’re looking at both regions and demands for services … health funds can only pay for services delivered in the hospital, but there have been some trials to try and get around that, including community-based care,” Mr Roff said.

Mayne Health, which owns the Mount hospital in Perth and private hospitals in Attadale and Glengary, is undertaking a restructure of the whole business operation in Australia.

“Demand for hospital beds is growing certainly, and in the eastern states some hospitals are having to direct patients to other hospitals. So we are seeing a situation where lifetime health cover is bringing a lot of people to the wards,” Mayne public affairs manager Serena Williams said.

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