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Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment

Indicator: Health services availability

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What the results tell us for the ACT

The ACT is a major provider of health services within the Australian Capital Region. It is the tertiary and trauma centre of the Region, providing sophisticated and highly professional services, with a major emphasis on clinical teaching and research.

The ACT is serviced by 10 hospitals: three public hospitals and seven private hospitals of which five are daycare-only facilities (see Table 1).

Table 1. Number of hospitals in the ACT
  Public acute care Public psychiatric Total public Private free-standing day Private other Total private Total hospitals
1996–1997 3 0 3 5 2 7 10
1997–1998 3 0 3 6 2 8 11

Source: Productivity Commission (2000) Report on Government Services 2000, Steering Committee for the review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision

The ACT had 784 beds available in acute care public hospitals in 1996–97 and this fell to 768 beds in 1997–98. Of the available beds 100% were accredited in 1996–97 and 99% in 1997–98. This can be expressed as 2.55 beds per thousand people in 1996–97 and 2.49 beds per thousand in 1997–98. This figure does not take into account Canberra's status as a major Regional health care provider. Accordingly when we take into account that 26% of patients from Council areas within the Region are hospitalised in the ACT, the true availability of beds (per thousand population) drops to as low as 1.53 if the whole population in the region is considered.

Accreditation of hospital beds provides some information about the proportion of hospital beds in institutions that have been subject to some independent evaluation. Across Australia 75% of public hospital beds were in Australian Council on Health Care Standards accredited hospitals at 30 June 1998. With 99% of all hospital beds accredited by the Australian Council on Health Care Standards, the ACT is at the top of the range across Australia (Table 2).

Table 2. Average available beds and accreditation status, by hospital sector a b c
  ACT Australia
Beds available in public acute care hospitals (number)
1996–97 784 53 411
1997–98 768 52 606
Beds available in public psychiatric hospitals (number)d
1996–97 NA 3 426
1997–98 NA 3 129
Beds accredited (%)
1997 100 72
1998 99 75g
Total beds available in public hospitals (number)
1996–97 784 56 836
1997–98 768 55 735
Beds available in private other (number)e
1996–97 na 22 966
1997–98 na 23 091
1996–97 na 78
1997–98 na 87
Total beds available in all hospitals (number)
1996–97 784 79 829
1997–98 768 78 826

a Where average available beds for the year were not available, bed numbers at 30 June were used.
b Accreditation status at 30 June. Data for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South
Australia, Tasmania and the NT for 1997 are supplied by the respective jurisdiction.
c Excludes private free-standing day hospital facilities.
d Includes public psychiatric and alcohol and drug hospitals.
e Includes private acute and private psychiatric hospitals. Data for New South Wales includes the ACT.
g Data adjusted to reflect the change in accreditation status for New South Wales and Victoria.
NA = not applicable, na = not available.
Sources: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1998a, 1999a); Australian Bureau of Statistics, Private Hospitals Australia (catalogue number 4390.0); Productivity Commission (2000) Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth–State Service Provision.

The Department of Health, Housing and Community Care provides a comprehensive range of health-related services in the ACT, including health promotion, acute and emergency treatment, palliative care, community health services, disability services, mental health, alcohol and drug, and aged care services. A number of these services are also provided in the private sector within the ACT.

The number of full-time workload-equivalent general practitioners billing Medicare fell from 235 in 1997–98 to 226 in 1998–99. This equates to 0.76 general practitioners per thousand population in 1997–98, and 0.73 general practitioners per thousand population in 1998–99. More recent data were not available. However, one point that came to light during 1999–2000 was the reported lack of general practitioners in the Lanyon Valley area of the ACT where the ratio at the end of the reporting period was 0.19 general practitioners per thousand population (Valley View, 4 July 2000).

While in 1998–99 there were 226 full-time-equivalent general practitioners operating in the ACT, the total number of doctors billing Medicare in the ACT was 358, which included 180 general practitioners, 79 other medical practitioners and 99 specialists, a ratio of 1.15 of all doctors per thousand population. The Australian ratio was 2.22 of all doctors per thousand population. (Department of Health and Aged Care, 1999 – GP Branch unpublished). These figures are surprising when we consider that Regional Australia is included, as rural areas are poorly serviced in terms of numbers of doctors.

About the data

Valley View 4 July 2000, article on general practitioner services in Lanyon Valley.

Productivity Commission: Report on Government Services 2000, Volume 1.

Department of Health Housing and Community Care website:

'Setting the Agenda – Directions for health and community care in the ACT', A statement by the Minister for Health and Community Care, Michael Moore MLA, August 1998.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 1998a, Australian Hospital Statistics 1996–97, Cat. No. HSE 5, AGPS, Canberra.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 1999a, Australian Hospital Statistics 1997–98, Cat. No. HSE 6, AGPS, Canberra.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Private Hospitals Australia, cat. no. 4390.0.

Productivity Commission 2000, Report on Government Services 2000, Volume 1: Education, Health, Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth–State Service Provision

Description: What does 'health services availability' measure?

Which data are collected?
  • number, age and capacity of hospitals (as number of beds per '000)
  • the number and diversity of health services in an area
  • doctor to patient ratio (GP and specialists separately)
Why do we report this indicator?

The provision of health infrastructure and services is one factor contributing to the level of health in a community, enabling individuals and groups to be able to interact positively with each other and with the natural and human environment. The availability of health services in the Region is an indicator of the response by society to the need to provide adequate health care for all.

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