Patients opt for private treatment

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The Launceston General Hospital is one of the state’s public facilities that is under strain.

By St.LukesHealth CEO Paul Lupo

Growing demand for elective surgery continues to put a strain on the performance and perception of our hospitals, ultimately impacting on the confidence of the Tasmanian public health system.

As a not-for-profit health insurance fund, St.LukesHealth has also experienced an increase in the number of members accessing private hospital services, reflective of national trends.

We saw an 8.61 per cent rise in hospital admissions last year, assisting 21,482 members throughout their hospitalisation process.

It is well documented that even with their best intentions, Tasmania’s public hospital system has struggled to keep up with demand and the waiting lists continue to frustrate those needing surgery.

Tasmanians confidence in the overall quality of the state’s health system has declined, however there is still a belief that better quality of care is available in the private sector.

Confidence levels are reflected in the latest IPSOS survey results, which detailed that those going through the public health system had an average waiting time of 89 days for elective surgery, while those with private health insurance only waited 25 days. These national statistics are reflective of what we are experiencing here in Tasmania.

Of the 748,000 patients nationwide admitted to public hospitals, general surgery (surgery on abdominal organs, including breast surgery) accounted for 22 per cent of those admissions while 15 per cent were admitted for orthopaedic surgery.

With the challenge of meeting increasing needs driven by a higher prevalence in chronic conditions, more needs to be done in the preventative health space with chronic conditions like arthritis, asthma, cancer, pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and mental health conditions now commonplace in society.

In 2017, we assisted members with procedures related to these chronic conditions such as gastroenterology (15 per cent) eye surgery (8 per cent), cataracts (5 per cent), chemotherapy (5 per cent) and psychiatric care (4 per cent).

We also helped our members with joint investigations, dialysis, gynaecological and non-cosmetic plastic surgery.

The newly reinstated state Liberal Government has announced that in its first 100 days it will make health a priority – with plans for a co-located private hospital in Launceston to be considered and an increase in the number of mental health beds in Hobart.

We look forward to the roll-out of these plans and seeing what outcomes the government delivers for both public and private patients.

Improvements in medical care have enabled us to live longer when burdened with illness or disease, which in turn has placed strain on an already stretched health system.

Public or private – no one wants a health system under strain. We will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of members and the Tasmanian community for the best possible care regardless of lifestyle and financial situation.

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