Delays and knock on effects as a result of the pandemic-induced suspension on non-urgent surgery could be eased in the public system, according to RANZCO, following a record $131 billion funding agreement for state-run hospitals.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the new 2020‑25 National Health Reform Agreement will deliver more doctors, nurses and services across public hospitals in every state and territory for the next five years.
The deal provides an estimated $131.4 billion in additional funding to public hospitals from 2020–21, and follows a more than $8 billion Commonwealth health investment during the COVID-19 response.
As part of the deal, the government has provided a funding guarantee to all states and territories to ensure no jurisdiction is left worse off as a result of the pandemic, and guarantees the Commonwealth’s funding contribution for public hospitals until the end of 2025.
Commenting on behalf of RANZCO, Professor Peter McCluskey, director of the Save Sight Institute at Sydney Eye Hospital and Professor and chair of ophthalmology at the University of Sydney, welcomed the agreement.
“While there is no specific mention of ophthalmology funding, one would assume we will get increased funding for cataract surgery, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and [age-related macular degeneration] treatment to meet increasing demand,” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McCluskey noted all non-urgent eye surgery and all non-urgent outpatient services were suspended. With the recent easing of restrictions, outpatient services and elective surgery are resuming with a staged return to normal capacity.
“Given that cataract surgery is one of the commonest surgical procedures performed in Australia, there will be a significant backlog of surgical cases. There will be similar large numbers of outpatient appointments to re-schedule and new patients to triage,” he said.
“In total, across Australia these are likely to be substantial numbers and take a considerable period of time to sort through and then assess. The flow-on effects and possible delays across the public sector may be significant. Increased funding will help to manage this demand and reduce delays.”
The cost of public eyecare
In a consultation paper on the Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospital Services 2016-17, published in 2015, RANZCO stated the most common principal diagnosis for elective admissions involving surgery in 2013/14 was ‘other cataract’, with 69% of the surgical procedures performed in private hospitals.
Overall 192,262 ‘other cataract services’ were reported in Australian hospitals, with 132,554 in the private sector and 59,708 in the public sector.
By 2020, it conservatively projected health costs of visual impairment would reach more than $3.7 billion, with indirect costs expected to add $3.2 billion.
At the time, it also stated public hospitals waiting lists were at unprecedented levels due to insufficient funding.
“Reduced overall financial resourcing to the public hospital sector will result in further fragmentation of services and potentially reduced patient care. In particular, further reductions to Commonwealth funding will likely have a detrimental impact on the State’s ability to meet patient demand for eye care.”