Hospital intake rate outpaces population

Hospital admissions have risen faster than population growth, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, ‘Admitted patient care 2017–18: Australian hospital statistics’, showed that 60 per cent of the 11.3 million hospital admissions were to public hospitals, and that over the past five years, publicly funded admissions grew faster than admissions funded by private insurance (4.7 per cent average growth a year compared with 3.6 per cent).

Overall, the total number of hospital admissions grew by an average of 3.8 per cent a year over this period.

The report shows admission for older Australians was a key driver of this growth. In the five years to 2017-18, hospital admissions increased by six per cent a year for people aged 65–74 and five per cent a year for people aged 85 and over.

“This increase was at a faster rate than population growth in both age groups, being 4.1 per cent and 3.5 per cent, respectively,” AIHW spokesman Dr Adrian Webster said.

This growth meant that, in 2017-18, people aged 65 years and older (who make up about 15 per cent of the population) accounted for 42 per cent of admissions and 49 per cent of patient days.

The report also showed relatively high rates of admissions classified as potentially preventable. Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, vaccine-preventable hospitalisations rose by almost 47 per cent.

“This reflects large numbers of admissions for influenza and pneumonia in most states and territories,” Dr Webster said.

The report also showed that elective surgery waiting times increased for both public and private patients in public hospitals, compared with waiting times previously reported.

“In 2017-18, the median waiting time for elective surgery in public hospitals was 41 days overall,” Dr Webster said. “Public patients waited an additional three days and patients who used private health insurance to fund part of their admission waited two days longer, compared with 2013-14.”

Supporting current concerns for rural and remote healthcare, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the report showed these groups made up 4.9 per cent of admissions (551,000) and were hospitalised at 2.6 times the rate for other Australians.

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