“Now I think that’s a pretty good outcome for Victorian taxpayers, where Victorian taxpayers’ money is being used to keep the private hospital system viable into the future.”
But at 5.30pm, Ms Mikakos’ spokeswoman clarified those comments, and confirmed that patients with the greatest need would be given priority – regardless of whether or not they have private insurance.
Effectively meaning all Victorian patients would be put on the same waiting list in order of urgency.
“Given the great work done to slow the spread of coronavirus, there is capacity in the system to undertake surgeries for both public and private patients,” the spokeswoman said.
“If this changes and demand escalates, in line with the deal with private hospitals, priority will be given to public patients who have a greater clinical need – to ensure the most urgent surgeries are completed first, regardless of whether they have private health insurance or not.”
Elective surgeries across the country had been suspended for a month in order to free up the health system for coronavirus patients, protect healthcare workers from contracting the disease and preserve supplies of personal protective equipment.
The relaxed measures are estimated to represent about 25 per cent of the total waiting list in Australia, but the Victorian government’s landmark deal to merge the private and public health resources could now mean private patients waiting for elective surgery are penalised.
Victoria struck a deal in late March with the major private hospitals to “purchase” their beds to increase the health system’s capacity for the next six months, while providing financial support for private clinics following the ban on elective surgeries.
“We have secured an arrangement with the private hospitals to prioritise public patients,” Ms Mikakos had said on Wednesday afternoon. “Private patients need to negotiate with their own doctor. We play no role in that.”
The Health Minister said the deal the government struck with the operators of the private hospital meant they were “effectively part of the public system”.
“If we had the situation that we’ve seen play out in other countries happen here, we would have been able to make sure people got access to beds regardless of whether it was in a public or private hospital to keep them alive if they had COVID-19,” Ms Mikakos said.
“I think most Victorians would find think that’s a fair deal.”
The government will not mandate a cap on the number of surgeries that can be carried out over the next three weeks.
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.