Australia’s hospitals are the subject of continuing public discussion that can be informed by the comprehensive information in Australian hospital statistics 2008–09.

Australia had 1,317 hospitals in 2008–09. The 756 public hospitals accounted for 67% of beds (56,500) and the 561 private hospitals accounted for 33% (27,500).

Accident and emergency services

There were 7.2 million accident and emergency services provided in public hospitals in 2008–09, with an increase of 4.6% on average each year between 2004–05 and 2008–09. Overall, 70% of patients were seen on time in emergency departments, as were 100% of resuscitation patients (those requiring treatment immediately). The overall proportion seen on time was either 69% or 70% each year since 2004–05.

Admitted patient care

There were 8.1 million separations for admitted patients in 2008–09, 4.9 million in public hospitals and over 3.2 million in private hospitals. There was an increase of 3.4% on average each year between 2004–05 and 2008–09 for public hospitals, and 4.4% for private hospitals.

Same-day separations were 57% of the total, having increased by an average of 4.8% each year between 2004–05 and 2008–09. The average length of stay for overnight admissions was 6.0 days in 2008–09, after having been 6.2 days since 2005–06.

About 3.6% of separations were for non-acute care. Between 2004–05 and 2008–09, there were increases in rehabilitation care in private hospitals (19% on average each year) and maintenance care (provided to patients who require care over an indefinite period) in public hospitals (9%).

Separation rates were higher than average for Indigenous Australians, for people in remote areas and in areas of lower socioeconomic status, overall and for public hospitals. For private hospitals, rates were higher for people in major cities and in areas of higher socioeconomic status.

Elective surgery

There were 1.8 million episodes of elective surgery in 2008–09. Public elective surgery increased by 3.1% over 2007–08, faster than the 1.7% average rate of increase between 2004–05 and 2008–09. Other elective surgery increased by 2.9%, slower than the average of 4.1% since 2004–05. The median waiting time for public elective surgery was 34 days, the same as in 2007–08.

Expenditure and funding

Public hospital recurrent expenditure totalled $31.3 billion in 2008–09. Adjusted for inflation, it increased by an average of 5.9% each year between 2004–05 and 2008–09.

About 70% of expenditure was for admitted patient services. Private health insurance was the main funding source for 37% of separations, and 53% were for public patients (mainly those funded through the Australian Health Care Agreements). Between 2004–05 and 2008–09, public patient separations increased by 3.1% on average each year, those funded by private health insurance increased by 5.6%, while those funded by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs decreased by 1.4%.