The number of Australians who delayed or avoided seeing their doctor because they could not afford it soared by almost 50 per cent in the last year, new figures have been revealed.
- The latest Productivity Commission Report details the impact of mounting out-of-pocket medical costs for Australians
- More people have been postponing or skipping visits to GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health professionals because of the cost
- In some parts of the country, people have been on waiting lists for public dental care for years
The latest Productivity Commission Report has further detailed the impact of mounting out-of-pocket medical costs for Australians, as GPs complain they are increasingly being forced to ditch bulk billing and charge patients just to keep afloat.
The report has revealed 3.5 per cent of people postponed or skipped GP visits in the past 12 months because of the cost, up from 2.4 per cent the previous year.
Almost a quarter of people are delayed seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional because they can’t afford it. While in some parts of the country, people have been languishing on waiting lists for public dental care for more than four years.
The figures come as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese prepares for the national cabinet’s first meeting of 2023 on Friday, with premiers and chief ministers to lobby the federal government to reform the health system and increase hospital funding.
Health Minister Mark Butler has admitted the sector is in the worst shape it has been in its 40-year-history, and the federal government has set up a $750 million task force to improve Medicare, with its report due within days.
The Productivity Commission figures also showed the rate of delaying or skipping GP visits was highest in Tasmania, while across the country there were about 3 million avoidable “GP-type” presentations to public hospital emergency departments.
Speaking ahead of the Productivity Commission’s release report on Thursday, Mr Butler said many people were unnecessarily visiting emergency departments because they could not see their GPS.
“It has never been harder to see a doctor than it is right now,” he said.
“It’s also never been more expensive.
“We’ve been working very cooperatively with doctors’ groups, patient groups, nurses’ groups, allied health groups, and many others to develop the Strengthening Medicare Task Force report, and the prime minister has committed to presenting that at the national cabinet later this weeks.”
The Productivity Commission report also revealed more than five in 100 people who needed a prescription for medication delayed or avoided filling it out because it was too expensive.
While in the last year, almost 22 per cent of people postponed appointments with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional than a GP.
The federal government has come under pressure in recent weeks to reinstate cheaper psychology sessions, and it is holding a mental health roundtable this week looking at ways to make services more affordable and accessible, particularly for Australians from lower socio-economic and regional and remote areas.
People are waiting more than four years to see a dentist
People are also being left on waiting lists for public dentists for several years in parts of Australia.
The report revealed in Victoria, 50 per cent of non-indigenous Australians waited longer than 800 days for their first visit with a public dentist, almost double the length of time from the previous year.
While 10 per cent were waiting longer than four years, an increase by almost 12 months in the previous year.
Pressure has been building on successive governments to invest more money in public dental services, with advocates long arguing against poor oral health putting pressure on the rest of the sector.
Figures from the Australian Dental Association show a quarter of people with access to public dental care do not have the minimum amount of teeth needed for their mouths to function efficiently, and gum disease and tooth decay are on the rise.
Federal Labor has previously said it is committed to its “long-term” goal of expanding Medicare to dental health services but has not specified a time frame.
Many Australians have not been seen on time in emergency departments
The report has also given additional insight into the pressure overburdened public hospitals are currently facing.
Just 65 per cent of patients in the “emergency” category presenting to EDs were seen on time, down from 71 per cent the previous year.
While just over half of “urgent” patients were seen within the clinically appropriate time frame of 30 minutes.
Speaking earlier this week Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Steve Robson said long-term reform was needed, reiterating state and territory calls for the federal government to extend a 50:50 funding deal for hospitals implemented at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic .
“We are in a system that is under enormous strain at the moment,” he said.
“We have nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers who are desperate to provide care for Australians, but need the resourcing to do that.
“Funding reform is absolutely critical if we’re going to move forward for the health of Australians.”
Some Australians waited more than an hour for ambulances
The data also shows waiting times for ambulances varied significantly depending on where you live.
The time in which 90 per cent of first-responding ambulance resources arrived at the scene of a “code 1” or critical emergency in capital cities ranged from about 16 minutes in the ACT to 71 minutes in South Australia.
Meanwhile, Victoria recorded the worst triple-0 response times in Australia.
Only 65 per cent of calls were answered within 10 seconds in Victoria’s last financial year, despite the state having less demand for ambulances than New South Wales and Queensland.
The Victorian government last year promised $333 million to hire 400 more emergency-call-taking staff following a damning report which found at least 33 deaths were linked to delays with the system.