The Australian Government has partnered with the private hospital sector to ensure that the full resources of the healthcare system are focused on treating patients as required, through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The agreement will ensure that more than 30,000 hospital beds, and the sector’s 105,000 skilled workforce, are available alongside the public hospital sector. This will strengthen Australia’s response to COVID-19 and preserve the sector’s capacity to resume hospital services after the pandemic.
“The strain COVID-19 is placing and will continue to place on our health system is unprecedented — never before has it been so imperative and essential for the establishment of a partnership such as this, ensuring the viability of the private components of Australia’s [health system] but also bringing Commonwealth, states and territories working together to maintain capacity in our overall health system,” Kym Jenkins, Chair of the Council of Medical College Presidents, said.
The Commonwealth will offer agreements to all 657 private and not-for-profit hospitals to ensure their viability, in return for maintenance and capacity during the COVID-19 response. State and territory governments will also complete private hospital COVID-19 partnership agreements. Private hospitals, including both overnight and day hospitals, will also integrate with state and territory health systems in the COVID-19 response. A spokesperson for Day Hospitals Australia welcomed the Commonwealth Government’s viability for capacity guarantee, which will ensure the survival of the day-hospital sector, both throughout the COVID-19 crisis and into the future.
“This agreement will provide significant additional capacity to an integrated public and private health system,” the spokesperson said. “Australia’s 357 day hospitals are ready to provide whatever services are needed to assist in combating the coronavirus.” These facilities will be required to make infrastructure, essential equipment (including ventilators), supplies (including personal protective equipment), workforce and additional resources fully available to the state and territory hospital system or the Australian Government.
Private hospitals will also continue to support the needs of long-stay public hospital National Disability Insurance Scheme participants, and aged care and general needs patients. In conjunction with Commonwealth, state and territory Health Ministers, private hospitals will support the COVID-19 response by providing hospital services for public patients (both positive and negative for COVID-19), Category 1 elective surgeries, and the utilisation of wards and theatres to expand intensive care unit capacity. Private hospitals will also provide accommodation for quarantine and isolation cases where necessary.
Michael Roff, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Private Hospitals Association, thanked the Minister for delivering on his promise to the sector. “By guaranteeing the viability of Australia’s private hospitals, the Minister has ensured Australians will have access to the full capacity of the private hospital system, including 35% of all intensive care beds, as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates. He has also ensured all private hospitals and day hospitals will be here and available to address the large surgical backlog that will need to be addressed when the pandemic is over — this is a significant achievement,” Roff said.
The government’s decision to partner with the private hospital sector strives to ensure health network capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide workforce retention that includes medical, nursing, clinical and ancillary staff to preserve the private hospital sector. The decision will also allow activities such as non-urgent elective surgery to resume and accelerate at the appropriate time, once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.
Health professionals will also receive appropriate training and equipment to ensure patient care is safe and the health and safety of the workforce is maintained. The arrangements will be reviewed throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure ongoing appropriateness.
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