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Room for improvement

Governments achieve mixed results in improving hospital care for all Australians.

Elective surgery waiting times are not improving across the country and people are putting off seeing a doctor because of the cost, a national report has revealed.

However, the COAG Reform Council report on health care agreements between the states and federal governments also highlighted some positive results – including an improvement in emergency department waiting times.

The report, released last week, found the median waiting times for elective surgery rose from 34 to 35 days, while times for those waiting the longest rose nationally from 233 to 264 days.

Affordability of healthcare was an area that needed improvement, said COAG Reform Council chairman, Paul McClintock.

It was found that one million people deferred their visit to a GP and more than 500,000 deferred seeing a specialist because of cost. More than one million people also reported putting off buying prescribed medication because of the cost.

“We are concerned by the number of Australians who can’t afford to visit a doctor or buy their prescription medicine when they need to,” McClintock said in a statement.

Promising results were seen in preventative health, with an increase in the rate of child immunisation and the rate of lung cancer declining significantly among the most disadvantaged.

On releasing the report, McClintock called on COAG to look at ways of improving the process for “timely responses” to all the council’s reports. There are currently eight council reports from 2010 which COAG has not yet responded to.

“This backlog means the recommendations we made in last year’s National Agreement reports remain unresolved, even after the council has released its 2011 reports,” McClintock said.

The council was also unable to write comprehensive reports on whether targets were being met as they weren’t getting enough current data, he said.

You can't really run this accountability system that the council is responsible for if you don't have current data," McClintock said.

"Not just across health, across all of these issues, we really do need this to be given a greater priority."

McClintock said examples of important missing or out-of-date data included rural and regional health statistics and cancer incident rates, the most recent of which are from 2007.

For the full report go to www.coagreformcouncil.gov.au/reports/healthcare.cfm

With AAP

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