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Remarks at launch of report on the growth of private patients in public hospitals

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's remarks at the launch of a report on the growth of private patients in public hospitals, at Parliament House, Canberra on 21 June 2017.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Thank you very much to Dan, to Cathy Ryan, to everybody associated with Catholic Heath Australia and with all of the amazing affiliate organisations.

Suzanna, I’m actually delighted you made your reference to Indigenous Australia in your opening. One of our most important tasks in the health system as a whole is to work on the still continuing and still unacceptable gap in the Indigenous health outcomes as opposed to non-Indigenous Australia.

That’s something which, not just myself and Dave Gillespie and Ken Wyatt have focused on, but I know that the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet are, it is something that we actually discuss and actively discuss and the role of the Catholic health in addition to the entire heath care system, is exceptionally important.

I really want to address three things today briefly. One is the role of Catholic Health Australia, and your affiliates, within the broader national healthcare system.

The second is to look at the question of hospitals and the relationship between public-private and private heath. And third is a very valuable and important by report Catholic Health Australia upsetting the balance: how the growth of private patients in public hospitals is impacting Australia’s health system.

So, let me begin briefly on Catholic Health Australia and your members. If you think of some of the great names, whether it’s St Vincent’s, St John of God, Mater and so many others, you are right at the forefront of the way Australians receive their healthcare and the way that Australians conceive of their healthcare.

The fact that you represent 9500 beds over 77 different institutions, including 23 public and other private.

Many Australians have never had to turn their minds to the fact that these institutions are both public and private, all they focus on is that they’re trusted names and trusted brands.

And I think that that’s an extremely important thing. You know, as a Victorian, I think of St Vincent’s I just think of the absolute pinnacle of healthcare.

You then go to the fact that, as the board represents, 5 per cent of our hospital admissions are in Catholic hospitals, 25 per cent of our private admissions are in Catholic hospitals. So, this role of a not for profit, of spanning public and private is unique in the Australian system, on a systemic basis.

And I was with the Prime Minister, we were in St Vincent’s in Sydney, and we were there for the launch, post-Budget, of the PM’s Walk for Life Challenge but we had a long discussion with the team from St Vincent’s about the way they were able to return any surplus funds into additional facilities, additional research.

The fact that there’s cutting edge research coming out of the system, and we were looking at the Aikenhead Centre in Melbourne and options that they had for additional research.

So, you are uniquely placed incredibly trusted, and utterly committed to patient outcomes. So I want to acknowledge and thank you for that.

The second point is to reflect on the broader hospitals arrangement, as some of you may know, we’ve set out four pillars to our Long-Term National Health Plan.

The first is strengthening and guaranteeing Medicare, and within that what are doing is obviously striking agreements and compacts with the doctors, with Medicines Australia, and with the pharmacists for looking at reform and reinvestment and long-term stability.

The second of our pillars is the hospital system, the third is mental health and preventive health and giving it an absolute priority, where you have four million Australian’s affected by mental health in any one year.

And the fourth is medical research, and this has been this year where medical research has landed in its most significant way with the expansion of the Medical Research Future Fund and the first projects coming online.

Within that area of the hospital system, we’re in a fortunate position that we were able to make some very significant new investments in the Budget that we’ve just had. It’s not about the money, it happens to travel from $19, to $20, to $21, to $22 billion of federal investment in the hospital system.

But it is a recognition that the hybrid method we have in Australia, of public and private, is exceptionally important.

They are complimentary and interdependent, and I think that the not for profit hospital sector, and I have said this before, has a unique role in being able to address some of the challenges in the public sector. You have beds that can be used, you have the capacity to reduce waiting times, and you have the capacity to deliver incredible services.

This is all related, of course, to private health insurance. Private health insurance is an indispensable part, an indispensable part of the entire hospitals network. It’s not just about choices that people have, but it’s about the fact that it allows both systems to survive side by side in a complimentary fashion. Very, very important.

So that then brings me to this particular reform. I would say that the most striking finding is in line with what we have already seen, and that is where there is an over-reliance on private patients in public hospitals. We have seen a doubling of the waiting time for general public patients over those who have private health insurance.

And that runs into tensions with fairness and principles of equity. It runs in to tension with the purpose of the Medicare system and the entire set of arrangements.

Now, the capacity for private patients to elect to be in public hospitals and to receive care is an integral part of our system, it’s an integral part of our system. But there has to be a balance. And so, in practices which have been identified, things we want to address with the states, we will be following the Council of Australian Governments process. So this report, I think, is an extremely important part of the debate, it will be contested by some, it will be welcomed by others.

But I want to thank you, I want to acknowledge you. And as the Senate bells ring, I am delighted to officially launch upsetting the balance: how the growth of private patients in public hospitals is impacting the Australia’s health system.

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