Access to hospitals

Providing access to appropriate and timely health care is an integral component of hospital care. This section explores several measures of access to Australia’s hospitals including waiting times for selected services. 

Explore more information about access to hospitals via the links at the bottom of the page.

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What is access to health care?

Access to health care is defined as "delivery of health care that is timely, geographically reasonable, and provided in a setting where skills and resources are appropriate to medical need" (WHO 2006).

Hospitals data collections include information on several measures of access, including:

  • Number of services available, including hospitals and emergency departments
  • Location of services and hospitals
  • Waiting times to access services
  • Geographic location, socioeconomic status and Indigenous status of the people that use hospital services.

What services do hospitals offer?

Australia’s hospitals provide a range of services for:

  • Non-admitted patients—including in outpatient clinics and emergency departments (predominantly in public hospitals)
  • Admitted patients—including emergency and elective (planned) medical and surgical care, and maternity services.

Hospital resources

  • There are 693 public and 657 private hospitals in Australia with 2.5 public hospital beds per 1,000 population in public hospitals and 1.4 private hospital beds per 1,000 population.
  • Nationally, about 68% of public hospital beds were located in Major cities (42,000 beds) and 18% were located in Inner regional areas (11,300 beds).
  • The number of public hospital beds per 1,000 population ranged from 2.4 beds per 1,000 population in Major cities to 4.0 beds per 1,000 population in Remote areas.

Non-admitted patient care

In 2017–18, 601 public hospitals and 29 other services provided 38.9 million non-admitted patient care service events.

Emergency department care

In 2018–19, emergency department waiting times differed by where a person lived.

  • median waiting times were highest for people living in Major cities (21 minutes), and lowest for those living in Remote areas (15 minutes)
  • patients living in Remote areas had the shortest median waiting times for Emergency, Urgent and Semi-urgent triage categories
  • patients living in Major cities had the longest median waiting times for Emergency, Urgent, Semi-urgent and Non-urgent categories.

Elective surgery waiting times

In 2018–19, rates of admission and waiting times for admission from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists, differed by remoteness area of usual residence and SES.

  • people living in Inner Regional areas had the highest rate of admissions from elective surgery waiting lists, (33.5 per 1,000 population) followed by Remote (33.0 per 1,000) and Outer regional (30.5 per 1,000)
  • Major cities had the lowest rate (25.2 per 1,000 population)
  • the time within which 50% of patients were admitted for their awaited procedure varied by remoteness area of the patient’s usual residence, ranging from 38 days in Remote areas to 46 days in Outer regional areas
  • the time within which 50% of patients were admitted ranged from 16.4 days for people living in areas classified as the highest level of socioeconomic disadvantage to 33 days for people living in areas classified as the lowest SES group.

Reference: WHO (2006) Quality of care: a process for making strategic choices in health systems. WHO, Paris.

Where do I find more information?

More data about access to hospitals is available to explore in the Info & downloads section.

Definitions of the terms used in this section are available in the Glossary.