Inadequate acute hospital beds and the limits of primary care and prevention


  • Paul Cunningham, FACEM, Staff Specialist; Jeremy Sammut, PhD, Research Fellow.

Correspondence: Dr Paul Cunningham, Emergency Department, Ryde Hospital, Denistone Road, Eastwood, NSW 2122, Australia. Email:


Metropolitan Australia is suffering from a serious shortage of acute hospital beds. Simplistic comparisons with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development bed numbers are misleading because of the hybrid Australian public/private hospital system. The unavailability of most private beds for acute emergency cases and urban/rural bed imbalances have not been adequately considered. There is a lack of advocacy for acute bed availability. This attitude permeates government, health professions and the health bureaucracy. Planners, politicians, analysts and the media have adopted false hopes of reducing acute demand by prevention and primary care strategies, vital as these services are to a balanced healthcare system. This paper directly challenges the ideology that says Australia depends too heavily on hospital-based healthcare. Rebuilding the bed base requires recognition of the need for an adequate acute hospital service and strong advocacy for bed-based care in the medical and nursing professionals who should be driving policy. The forces opposing bed-based care are strong and solutions might include legislative definition of bed numbers and availability.