By Reece D’Alessandro

Produced for online by Emily Halverson

Public patients are losing out after figures show prioritising of private patients. Image courtesy of J Franklin via

Public hospitals are being accused of prioritising patients based on their wealth rather their clinical needs.

Shocking new government figures show people relying on the public system are waiting longer than those with private health insurance for procedures in a public hospital.

New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggests the number of people with private health insurance receiving treatment at public hospitals is rising.

And now, a public patient is on average waiting twice as long for heart surgery as a privately-insured patient in the same public hospital.

Private Hospitals Association CEO Dr Michael Roff says our public system has a lot to answer for.

“We’ve seen there’s been a 10.5 per cent increase in private patients treated in public hospitals every year for the last five years, and that’s because public hospitals are deliberately going out and trying to sign up private patients, instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, which is to treat public patients.”

He says the money hospitals will receive from insured patients is taking greater priority.

“That’s just not the way that the public hospital system is supposed to work; it’s supposed to be there to treat public patients, so now we’re finding that if you don’t have health insurance, you get pushed further and further to the back of the queue and that could actually be risking people’s health and risking their lives in some cases.”

He also argues the selection process is making private health insurance less affordable.

‘Public hospitals are raking in over $1 billion a year in fees from private health insurance funds. If that wasn’t happening, we could have somewhere between a six to 10 per cent reduction in health insurance premiums.”

A six-billion-dollar subsidy for private health insurance holders is designed to keep pressure off the public system, but Doctors Reform Society President, Dr Tim Woodruff, says this just is not working.

“If you use a surgeon in a private hospital to do an operation, he cannot be in a public hospital doing it, so anything that’s done in the private sector, takes away from the public sector.”

And Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon says the solution is more funding.

“Increasingly the states have become more and more reliant on income from private patients to maintain their services, but that’s the problem that needs to be fixed.”

And it needs to be fixed soon, says Dr Roff.

“It won’t be long before we’re going to be counting the cost in people’s lives.”