Public hospitals

Public hospitals in Australia provide high-quality comprehensive medical care. Learn how we fund public hospitals in Australia and who can receive treatment.

What a public hospital is

A public hospital in Australia is one that is:

  • recognised and approved to operate as a public hospital by state and territory governments.
  • funded by the Australian Government, state and territory governments
  • must declared to be a hospital by the Minister for Health and Aged Care under section 121–5(6) of the Private Health Insurance Act 2007 to receive private health insurer benefits.

A medical service or facility cannot just decide to call itself a hospital. For the minister to declare a facility to be a public hospital, the facility must apply and provide evidence to help the minister make a decision.

The relevant state or territory government must also give formal approval for a facility to operate as a public hospital.

Learn about the hospital declaration process and find out how to apply.

How we fund public hospitals

Under the National Health Reform Agreement, the Australian Government contributes funds to state and territory governments for public hospital services. This funding covers services delivered through:

  • emergency departments
  • admitted settings in hospitals
  • other non-admitted settings managed by public hospitals.

The Administrator of the National Health Funding Pool calculates how much funding each state and territory is owed by the Australian Government. The Administrator provides this advice to:

  • the Treasurer
  • state and territory health ministers and departments.

The Treasurer pays funds into the National Health Funding Pool – made up of Reserve Bank of Australia accounts for each state and territory.

Learn more about public hospital funding.

Who can receive treatment in a public hospital

Anyone in Australia who has a Medicare card has the choice to receive public hospital services free of charge as a public patient . Access to public hospital services is provided on the basis of clinical need, and within a clinically appropriate period.

Find out if you are eligible for a Medicare card.

The kinds of public hospital services you can receive free of charge are :

  • emergency department services (ED)
  • admitted services as a public patient
  • non-admitted services.

Patients in the ED, as a result of a sudden serious illness or accident, are not yet admitted patients.

Public patients don’t get to choose their doctor, but treatment is free and the hospital’s free outpatient clinic provides follow-up care. There may be a waiting list if you need elective surgery (a planned operation). You can be charged for some services – for example, you may need to make a co-payment for pharmaceuticals you receive as part of your hospital care.

Private patients in a public hospital do get to choose their doctor, but must pay for their care.

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