Greater than expected demand has seen Canberra Hospital blow its budget for 2019-20, with the government having to tip in an extra $60 million to maintain services, particularly for elective surgery and emergency.
The cash injection comes as a result of the Mid-Year Budget Review, and will mean the Budget will take a hit to its bottom line.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith told ABC Radio that Canberra Hospital had been overspending for 2019-20 to keep up with growing demand.
She said the need for emergency and elective surgery had grown significantly over the past four years, along with an increase in emergency department presentations.
The extra spending comes after the Report on Government Services showed ACT was the worst in the nation in terms of seeing urgent and semi-urgent patients on time.
Health data consistently shows the ACT has poor waiting times, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last December reporting the Territory had the lowest rate of emergency department patients being seen on time in Australia.
Nationally, 71 per cent of patients were seen on time. In the ACT, only 46 per cent of patients were seen within the designated time frames.
Canberra Hospital’s treatment costs remain stubbornly high compared with other major hospitals.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the Government, while providing extra funding to maintain services at the current level, was also continuing to look for savings and efficiencies, but no staff or elective surgeries would be cut.
“We know that in a lot of spaces our hospital system is a lot more expensive than around the country and we need to continue to bring these costs down,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
The minister attributed the extra demand to the flu season, an increase in emergency patients requiring surgery, and patients presenting at the ED with complex conditions, including mental health issues.
There had been a 14.1 increase in emergency surgeries over the last four years.
“It’s really about Canberra Hospital continuing to meet its elective surgery targets while meeting this pressure that’s coming on in relation to emergency surgery,” she said.
Ms Stephen-Smith said 14,000 elective surgeries were completed in 2019 and the hospital system was on track to meet this year’s target of 14,250.
She said it was expected the expanded Calvary emergency department, due to be completed next month, would make a positive impact on the situation, delivering a 20 per cent increase in emergency treatment spaces across the ACT.
Last year’s Budget saw an increase to staff at the Canberra Hospital ED.
Ms Stephen-Smith said people were using the nurse-led walk-in centres and this was relieving some of the ED pressure in the lower presentation categories.